The production opens, not on an Andalusian village, but on some kind of very English society party, with the actors clad in smoking jackets, cravats and evening dresses. Against the cellar’s naked white walls the guests mill about sipping champagne before agreeing to read through the play that one of them has written. As a result the opening scenes of Federico Garcia Lorca’s Bodas de Sangre unfold with script notes clutched in hands and stifled giggles at each other’s misread lines. But inevitably, as the play progresses, collars are unbuttoned and shawls are donned, and the scripts are eventually thrown aside, as everyone slowly slides into character.
Though the acting is uniformly good, Angela Bull, clad in red as the Bride, makes the strongest impression. Hers is a measured, subtle and moving performance, that makes the best use of the available space. Miranda Harrison is also powerful as the mother who has lost too many men to quick tempers, hot blood and the blade. Will Hartley, as Leonardo, is sufficiently intense if occasionally a little too loud for such a tiny theatre. The supporting cast all do equally good jobs, the female cast members especially so, though the manner in which the characters are doubled up between them can occasionally make things confusing for those not particularly familiar with the text.
The framing device is, superficially, successful. But though it makes for some amusing moments in the play’s opening scenes, as the actors find their feet, ultimately the evening gowns and champagne flutes add little to the proceedings. It isn’t so much the concept that fails but rather the choice of setting: the stripped down rehearsal room performance of Louis Malle’s 1994 film Vanya on 42nd Street said more with less about the theatrical experience, and there are plenty of places in this world, in this city even, where the themes of Lorca’s tragedy are still very real and relevant. It seems like an idea that could have been made more of.
Though weighted with superstition and symbolism, the emotional core of Lorca’s play is such that it transcends, it still has resonance, whether on a vast, elaborate stage set or in a 50 seat West London pub theatre. Though there are still a few kinks that could be worked out of this production, the final scene of the three women holding up the ‘blades’ that have cost them so much still has considerable impact, and still says so much about the ways of men and the women left behind.