Review: Blood Wedding, Triangle ~ theatre notes

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Review: Blood Wedding, Triangle

"Publish? I don't publish my plays... Plays are made to be felt in the theatre. They should last as long as the performance does, that's enough... That is what makes the theatre so lovely: as soon as it is created, it disappears." - Federico García Lorca

Blood Wedding: (L-R): Matias Stevens, Nicole da Silva and Irene del Pilar Gomez. Photo: Jeff Busby

Few writers have as acute a sense of mortality as Lorca. His plays are saturated with the sense of their own temporality: they are dreams that traverse the stage and vanish, having changed the colours of our mind. He sought a pitch of expressiveness that walks the edge of things, on the cusp between life and death. To create this, he called on all the musical resources of his language: the lyrical simplicity of Andalusian folk songs, the experimental resources of modernist poetry. Like all poets his work is embedded inextricably in the sensual aspects of his native tongue, but Lorca presents a particular challenge in translation. There are things that Spanish can do, ways in which Lorca twisted its possibilities, that simply don't exist in English.

Marion Potts's bilingual production of Blood Wedding is probably as close as we can get to experiencing Lorca without being able to speak Spanish. The story follows the savage logic of vendetta - two sons from warring families, a fatal love affair that can only end in blood - to create an Attic sense of the tragic. Lorca's characters exist simultaneously in a hieratic, symbolic order of reality and in a sharply delineated world of ordinary objects - knives, pins, wheat, sheets - which anchor the play's extreme, stylised passions in a very material, recognisable present.

The design, by The Sisters Hayes (Christina, Esther and Rebecca), covers the wide space of the stage floor in gravel, with a back wall the height of the theatre built of decorative concrete breeze blocks. As well as the bullring, one of Lorca's persistent metaphors, it recalls the harsh desert space of Lorca's duende: "through the empty arch comes a wind, a mental wind blowing relentlessly over the heads of dead...announcing the constant baptism of newly created things." The side of the stage is lined with a motley row of fridges, full of plastic bottles of water. The emphasis is on obdurate, unromantic reality: the few props are objects like plastic milk crates or scuffed armchairs.

This pregnant emptiness is filled with a sudden swirl of vitality, as members of the cast carry in the Mother (Mariola Fuentes) on a chair, arguing about where to place her before setting her down for her first dialogue with her son, the Bridegroom (David Valencia). Potts's production is punctuated by these sudden vivid influxes of movement and song, creating a compelling rhythm that heightens the intensities of the different scenes, and which also, not unincidentally, accustoms our ears to listening to Spanish.

The bilingual conceit, adapted by Raimondo Cortese, works brilliantly, changing language with an almost conversational ease from one line to another: without ever finding myself lost in the story, it permits us to hear the full power of Lorca's language. Often the Spanish lines kick the energy of a scene up a few notches, permitting an expressiveness some actors couldn't find in the English. For the first two acts the performance is completely compelling. In the final act, when Lorca shifts to a full-on elegaic lyricism, the staging isn't quite so successful in its reaching for the poetic: sometimes I found the action confusing, and the energy flagged.

Lorca says he wrote this play while listening obsessively to Bach's Brandenburg Concerto, and, reflecting the precision of Bach, insisted on the "mathematical" exactness of its musical rhythms. You can see in performance how necessary (and how demanding) this precision is. In the final act the unevenness of the acting begins to tell: the extremity of Lorca's lyric requires a similarly disciplined extremity in performance, and sometimes that was wanting. It is too easy for Lorca's poetry to become mere decorative words: it requires the dynamic of naked feeling to catch theatrical fire. When this pitch is struck, however, it flies true. Fuentes's mourning for her dead son  - "My son is now an armful of withered flowers. My son is now a dim voice behind the mountains." - gathers all grief inside it and breaks your heart.

For all that, Blood Wedding is a notable and sometimes revelatory production of a playwright whose challenges are too seldom seen, let alone met, on our stages, and which signally evades any cheap exoticising. Not to be missed.


Over at MKA's pop up space in North Melbourne, Triangle is another adventure into the poetic. Glyn Roberts's play consists of intertwined monologues that spiral out of an encounter between two women, a young middle class mother and a student, in the Edinburgh Gardens in Fitzroy. Triangle is an experiment in the excavation of unexpressed desires in lives that are leached of vitality: the meeting is given us in a double narrative, one of which explores a gothic and bloody tale of the revenge of the undead, the other in which almost nothing happens.

The story is told and untold, so that both realities exist uneasily side by side, each equally with valency in the suspended space of theatre: the baby in the pram is murdered and devoured, the baby in the pram is gurgling happily; the undead women bloodily slaughter everyone in a supermarket, they part with no harm done. At its best, the uncertainties of these contradictions create an electric sense of the pressure of thwarted yearnings (recalling Blake: "Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires") and the uncanny that can sit within mundane reality. However, Roberts's text, short as it is, can fall into a wordiness that paradoxically reveals a lack of emotional detail: I wanted more poetic precision. Violence can be too easy a reach.

It's given an excellent, minimalist production by Tanya Dickson, with stand-out performances by Elizabeth Nabben and Janine Watson and a notable sound design from Russell Goldsmith that heightens the uneasy realities in this play.  Another production that demonstrates that MKA is one of the must-see independent companies on the Melbourne calendar.

Blood Wedding, by Federico Garcia Lorca, dapated by Raimondo Cortese, directed by Marion Potts. Design by The Sisters Hayes, lighting design by Paul Jackson, composition by Tim Rogers, sound design by Russell Goldsmith. With Silvia Colloca, Nicole Da Silva, Ivan Donato, Mariola Fuentes, Ruth Sancho Huerga, Irene del Pilar Gomez, Matias Stevens, Greg Ulfan and David Valecia. Merlyn Theatre, Malthouse Theatre, until August 19.

Triangle by Glyn Roberts, directed by Tanya Dickson. Set design by Eugyeene Teh, costumes by Chloe Greaves, lighting by Ron Sowinski, sound design by Russell Goldsmith. With Elizabeth Nabben and Janine Watson. MKA Theatre at 64 Sutton St, North Melbourne, until August 4.


Anonymous said...

Hello Alison,

it's Irene 9Sistyer-in-low and Beggar Woman from Blood wedding). Thank you very much for your notes about the play. I think you write with knowledge and criteria. Thank you one more time ;)

Irene del Pilar Gomez

Alison Croggon said...

Thanks, Irene. Much appreciated!

Alex said...

Any chance you have a source for that comment Lorca made about Bach? writing a paper and would love to see that.

Alison Croggon said...

Sorry Alex, it's so long ago I can't remember where. Maybe try his essays?

Chris Boyd said...

Lorca touches on the mathematics and emotion of Bach in a long and fascinating letter to poet Jorge Guillén in the mid 1920s. So, maybe Epistolario would be a good place to start.

Alison Croggon said...

Thanks for that, Chris. Why, it's almost like old times...

Anonymous said...

Ha, yes! :-)

- Chris