Does the power of the plays of the great Andalusian dramatist Federico García Lorca reside, first and foremost, simply in the stories themselves, or does it, rather, emanate from the writer’s distinctive poetics? I ask because the British theatre seems to be increasingly convinced that the Spanish writer’s dramas are only “relevant” if their early-20th-century flamenco poetics are discarded in favour of something more prosaic.
In 2009, for example, the National Theatre of Scotland staged Rona Munro’s version of Lorca’s opus The House of Bernarda Alba, which set the play among 21st-century Glaswegian gangsters. The results were toe-curlingly awful.
Now this co-production between Dundee Rep, Derby Theatre and Graeae theatre company is doing something remarkably similar with another of Lorca’s famous dramas, Blood Wedding. Rewritten by David Ireland, and directed by Graeae’s artistic director Jenny Sealey MBE, this new version relocates the great play of reckless passion and terrible revenge to an unnamed British city in the present day.
In fairness, there is a certain rationale to Ireland’s adaptation. This Blood Wedding, like all of Graeae’s work, is an inclusive piece. The new script has been written to reflect a cast which includes Deaf, disabled and non-disabled actors.
With the important role of the Mother of the Bridegroom written for Deaf actor EJ Raymond, Ireland and Sealey decided that the script should reference the physicalities, and indeed the ethnicities, of the actors. All of which makes more sense to the UK in 2015 than to southern Spain in 1928.
However, even if one defends Sealey’s insistence that her “glorious, motley mix of people on stage” has the right to perform this play (and, for the record, I do), it is hard to accept Ireland’s new script. As the drama builds up to the fateful moment when Leonardo (renamed Lee, here) and the Bride elope together, one is dismayed by the soap opera naturalism of the dialogue.
Gone are the premonitory poetics of Lorca’s drama. In using the narrative as a mere scaffold on which to hang his own words, Ireland has stripped the play of its great passion, yearning and anguish.
There is a belated attempt, following the elopement, to shift from conversational naturalism into a higher linguistic register, but even that falls considerably short of the poetry of the original play.
Until March 14, then touring until April 25. For more information, visit: graeae.org
This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on March 12, 2015
© Mark Brown