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Blood Wedding, Oxford Theatre Guild: Oxford Playhouse
Present-day TV soap scriptwriters owe a great deal to Spanish playwright Federico García Lorca. His tragedy Blood Wedding, of 1933, showed them the way, for it contains all the vital ingredients of a typical soap wedding: a bitter family feud, an unhappy existing marriage, a jilted bridegroom, and, of course, a disastrous outcome.
But Lorca’s classic play has many more layers besides, and it presents a considerable challenge to a director. As Alice Evans writes in a programme note to her production for Oxford Theatre Guild at the Playhouse this week: “The play incorporates song, chant, poetry, music, and rhythm, all of which create a stylised performance”.
Aided by an appropriate music score (Trevor Davies) and ironically sunny sets (Vince Haig), Evans has used a chorus of singers and dancers to provide the stylised performance, and add Spanish atmosphere.
In the first two acts, the chorus slides on and off, its members interweaving themselves between the principal characters from time to time. On opening night, the singing was of variable quality (fair’s fair, this is a theatre company, not an operatic society), and the Spanish dancing sometimes came dangerously close to being twee.
But the principal problem is that these elaborately choreographed interludes are too long, and break the dramatic tension. In the third act, however, Evans’s concept really comes good: now the chorus acts as spirits and commentators, and its fluid, symbolic movements contrast brilliantly against the hard realities of the storyline, thus adding dramatic emphasis.
The Theatre Guild has fielded a strong cast. As Leonardo, the only named character and the unhappily married man who runs away with the Bride, James Reilly convincingly portrays a sharp tempered character, driven by lust. In appropriate contrast, Craig Finlay is a gentle, jilted Bridegroom: “He’s never known a woman,” announces his mother in biblical tones. As Mother, Donna Doubtfire is a tour de force: her relentlessly negative manner and sharp voice brook no contradiction. Mica Forrest’s Bride is a pretty sharp character too.
Meanwhile, Fleur Putt invites sympathy as Leonardo’s abandoned wife, and Val Shelley’s Mother-in-Law is the friendly rock every family needs in times of crisis. Adding warmth, too, are Layla Al-Katib as a Servant, and Andrew Whiffin as the Bride’s easy going, vineyard-owning, father. When death strikes, Chrissie Boyd invests the Beggar Woman with a quiet dignity.
Congratulations to Oxford Theatre Guild for tackling this play. I might not agree with every aspect of the production, but there is much good, and thought-provoking, work here.
Until Saturday. Tickets: 01865 305305 or online at www.oxfordplayhouse.com