Sunday, 12 October 2014

Blood Wedding - WAAPA (11 October 2014)

If Game of Thrones has taught us anything it’s that weddings are to be avoided at all cost. Red ones, Purple ones and now, courtesy of WAAPA and Federico Garcia Lorca, Blood ones. Yes, this is not a happy tale. Things start calmly enough as the audience is greeted by a band playing appropriately Spanish music with Hayden Emery doing some tasty classical guitar work. The Roundhouse set is particularly impressive with full length arches made of entwined rope and what will be a series of different drapes hanging from the rafters. There is an upper level walkway that will see extensive use even by a surprise ‘character’ in the second half.

The production begins with the band retreating to upstage left and the second year acting students in 1930s period attire attacking the stage with gusto in dance and song. It’s an attention grabbing opening. From there the tale of generational family conflict and bloodshed unfolds as a Mother (Stephanie Panozzo) bemoans the use of guns and knives as her son, credited only as the Bridegroom (Andrew Creer), goes off to work on the family vineyard. It seems he is betrothed to a woman – The Bride (Shalom Brune-Franklin) - who once had a relationship with Leonardo (Ben Kindon) who is from a family that murdered the Mother’s husband and other family members. Leonardo’s Wife (Rebecca Gulia) is none too happy when Leonardo wants them to travel to the wedding leaving their baby with the Mother-in-Law (Jess Paterson). The Father of the Bride (Bevan Pfeiffer), however, is eager to finalise the union as the Bridegroom’s family has extensive lands and wealth compared to his. Things go terribly awry when Leonardo runs off with The Bride on the wedding night and they flee into the woods. It does not end well as the Mother’s wrath and anguish towers above this tragic tale of impulsive love, revenge and generational violence.

In many ways this reminded me of the Sicilian sequences in The Godfather. That sense of passion, the pre-eminence of family, and the animosity between clans that lingers for generations. The production is full of song and dance and even gets quite surreal at points in the second half as the Moon (Lincoln Vickery) decides the fate of those in the woods with his light illuminating (or not) the transgressors. There’s also a creepy Beggar Woman (Hoa Xuande) in this sequence who adds a supernatural tinge to proceedings.

The show ends quite abruptly after The Bride presents herself to the Mother and beseeches the grieving woman to cut her throat and end the cycle of violence. But what use is this sacrifice to a woman who has lost all the men in her life so cruelly? This is punctuated with a thud as the deceased are summarily disposed.

I really enjoyed this though it took me a little while to get my bearings. The first scene after the dance introduction was tentative and awkward but from that point Panozzo (who sports a convincing Spanish accent) gives an increasingly strong performance culminating in a powerhouse final sequence where her anguished song is quite devastating. It’s interesting that all of the main characters seem set in their ways throughout – the Mother foreshadows the outcome in the very first scene – but maybe that is the true tragedy – none of these people can change their essential nature. 

Brune-Franklin is terrific as the haughty Bride and her plea to the Mother at the end is heartbreaking. Creer is a strapping Bridegroom whose character is beholden to his mother but adds some lighter touches during the wedding celebration as brief as it is. Kindon is fiery and passionate as Leonardo which is a tricky role as he is less than kind to his wife and his impulsive nature is the catalyst for the tragedy. Gulia (with a beautiful singing voice) has a lovely moment with Paterson as they serenade the baby to sleep though she is largely left to play ‘the other woman’ as her husband follows his rash desires. A standout in a supporting role was Harriet Gordon-Anderson as the Bride’s servant. She is all fussy efficiency and practicality with yet again another strong singing voice.

There is plenty of work for the rest of the cast with a ribbon sequence between Brittany Morel, Claudia Ware and Elle Harris that is quite effective and Seamus Quinn, Dacre Montgomery-Harvey and Rian Howlett playing woodcutters in the second half. The cast is rounded out by Luke Fewster and Megan Wilding.

This is a wonderful mix of drama, dance, song and music but there were a few things that didn’t quite work for me. The band, who added so much mood and atmosphere particularly with a mournful saxophone (Michael Bednall), were a little loud in the latter sequences of the first half which tended to drown out pivotal dialogue which was already tricky to follow with the Spanish accents. When the woodcutters are chopping into the table a sound effect was used. This play is so visceral and passionate I wanted to hear the axes crunch on the table; I wanted to feel the reverberations. Not so good for the table perhaps but the sound effect was a little chintzy especially when it curiously wasn’t used for one of the woodcutters (nice save, checking the axe blade). Yes, later there was a cool lighting effect when the trees are cut down but it was a small moment that felt off-kilter. Likewise, I wanted to really experience the final THUDS. 

A couple of other minor things – most of the action is set quite far back and perhaps could have been brought forward to take advantage of the Roundhouse configuration. There are also times when central characters are saying dialogue to back of stage when they could have circled around to deliver lines. Other than that this is a really strong piece and has whetted my interest in seeing what this class does next year.

Directed by Ross McGregor, Written by Federico Garcia Lorca, starring WAAPA’s second year acting students and featuring a band of Michael Bednall (soprano saxophone), Hayden Emery (classical guitar), Jameson Feakes (guitar), Lila Raubenheimer (celeste), Dario Jiritano (double bass) and Tom Robertson (cajon), Blood Wedding is on at The Roundhouse Theatre until 16 October.

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