Getting stuck into inviolable, Teflon-coated classics, such as Lorca’s Blood Wedding, doesn’t tend to win a critic any more friends, fans, or favours. Oh well. Sydney Theatre Company’s new production of such, translated and directed by Iain Sinclair, definitely has its manifold visceral ecstasies, but cohesiveness is a contentious issue.
Costumes (Luke Ede) and makeup (not least masks) are extraordinary, as is the lighting (Damien Cooper) which conjures veritable night terrors and we all know about the strident mythological aspects of Lorca’s work, but making it all hang together is no mean feat and not really one that’s been achieved here. Not being either a native or other Spanish speaker (not for want of wanting to be), it’s almost impossible for me to raise anything but suspicions (and, probably, hackles) in speculating that this might be a bit of a loose, lazy translation. Though an advocate for adaptations that bring plays into Australian vernacular, I’m not sure how well it works here. And it seems rather capricious and haphazard in application. And maybe a little pretentious.
And so it is with reservations that I acknowledge and commend a range of powerful (if occasionally overwrought) performances, especially from the impossibly versatile Leah Purcell as the still-grieving, still aggrieved, yet invincible mother, and ever-better Lynette Curran. The several Residents in the play show admirable craft, but seem to be, increasingly, succumbing to a house style and lacking individuation as actors.
Andrew Veivers composition and arrangement is outstanding, but his front-and-centre presence s guitarist, and even actor, is a more questionable decision. Steve Francis’ sound design is powerful, but Rufus Didwiszus much-touted spare set didn’t really do it for me.
Sinclair has the intensity lever pushed all the way to 11 and, mostly, it works. Indeed, if you didn’t know who was involved, you’d probably assume a Spanish director, for the passion behind the scenes and on-stage is palpable. A few balls are hit way out of the park, which makes for thrills, but I’m not sure they’re all retrieved. To indulge a second metaphor, it’s a compelling journey, but I disembarked not really knowing where I was, or where I’d been.
Perhaps Blood Wedding is too much a product of its time and context. After all, despite being at the peak of his powers and part of a creative cabal that included countrymen Bunuel and Dali, the play, written in 1932, was intended to be a punch-to-the head warning of what lay in wait for Spain. This has little relevance for Sydneysiders today, with about the worst threat to our democracy being the paternalistic pastor, the Rev Fred.
It’s all very well to intone, as is often done, catch-all cliches like, ‘never more relevant’ but, sometimes, certain dramas just aren’t.
There’s a lot of love invested here and duende is arguably in evidence but, again, it’s a locomotive that runs off the rails.
The details: Blood Wedding plays Wharf 1 until September 11. Tickets on the company website.