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Oxford Theatre Guild's Playhouse show for Spring 2012 was Lorca's Blood Wedding. Reviews appeared in the Oxford Times, Daily Information, What's On Stage, Oxford Propect and Theatreworld Internet Magazine.

A gallery of pictures from the production will be available soon.

OXFORD TIMES - Giles Woodforde

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.

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Oxford Theatre Guild cordially invites you to the Oxford Playhouse to witness the performance of Blood Wedding, Lorca’s tale of passion and betrayal set under the burning Spanish sun.

The Bride and the Groom are getting married. The Bride however is torn between the honour and prosperity that will come from her impending nuptials, and the fact that she is still in love with the now unhappily married Leonardo, with whom she used to be involved. Leonardo is from the family that killed the Groom’s father. The Groom’s mother is naturally very angry about this. The personification of Death lurks about ominously in the background. It’s fairly clear this is not going to end well.

Intense plays of this nature always tread a fine line between passion and unhinged melodrama. This production, whether consciously or not, veers towards the latter. This creates quite a confusing tone, inspiring laughter where it seems there should have been despair at the inevitability of loss and death. 

This staging of Blood Wedding would probably be a challenge to any theatre company, let alone an amateur one such as the Oxford Theatre Guild. It requires performances of tightly wound drama and passion, of chant, poetry, and flamenco, and of singing, the majority of which is unaccompanied. Not to mention the fact that the play is highly symbolic; in the second half the Moon and Death have a chat, just after the forest - taking the function of a Greek chorus - has caught the audience up on the action.

The cast and crew clearly put a lot into the production (with particular mention for the set designers) but ultimately it feels like they have given themselves too much to do. Though I rather enjoyed the spectacle of the second half, I did feel that for much of it I was lost in the forest in the midst of a lunar eclipse.

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WHAT'S ON STAGE - Mike Taylor

The story told in Lorca's Blood Wedding is a deceptively simple one. Boy meets girl. They break up, girl gets engaged to another man and gets married. And then the caca hits the fan.

The fundamental themes are, perhaps, common to the human experience, but the setting of revenge and blood and murder are not: the underlying violence (highlighted by David Long's deceptively simple lighting) and tortuous relationships are intimidatingly alien to modern British culture, and consequently have to be delivered with care if they are not to inadvertently cause awkward laughter in the audience. Fortunately, for the most part, director Alice Evans manages to steer her cast around the traps in Gwynne Edward's translation of this dated Spanish classic. Unfortunately, this means that the prose has to be down-played, with evocative lines thrown away, consequently weakening the central conceit of the piece.

The main character - The Bridegroom's Mother (Donna Doubtfire) - holds the play together, acting both as a cultural compass and as a narrator, and Doubtfire's skilful performance weaves together the expositional lines and the required emotional sensibilities to portray a properly tortured soul and the centre of the emotional maelstrom. The only named character - Leonardo - is forcefully portrayed by James Reilly, but sadly the central relationship between him, The Bridegroom (Craig Finlay) and The Bride (Mica Forrest) is curiously sterile and devoid of the passion that is supposed to provide the impetus to drive the story towards its historically inevitable conclusion.

There are some delightful performances in the chorus: Jessica Welch and Monica Nash's young village girls stand out as isolated innocents taking simple pleasure from life, and the singing was a high point in the evening's performance. Layla Al-Katib's servant was deliciously snippy and loyal and slightly vindictive at turns, and I would have loved to see more of that character.

Director Alice Evans emphasises the importance of the choreography and movement, the music, the set and the costumes, and all four elements show great imagination and talent. Vince Haig's wonderfully evocative and flexible set renders a number of scenes with minimal transformation (the forest is quite breath taking), whilst Charlotte Evans' choreography is passionate and committed, and equal to anything I have seen on the Playhouse stage.

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Lorca’s tragedy of honour killing, set in rural Spain in the 1930s, is sombre and enigmatic. The predominant colours of this production, black and red, are symbolic of passion, blood and death, none of which are ever fully explained.

There is an arranged marriage. The bride is young. Her father wants her to marry to breed children to work on the land. The groom’s mother wants grandchildren to replace the dead family members who fell victim to one of the local feuds. She has never stopped mourning for her lost husband and son. By the end of the story, there are two more dead men. The bride runs off with Leonardo, who has secretly loved her and perhaps been her lover. They gallop away on his stallion, which is so wild and rebellious it does not even want to be shod – symbolic surely of untameable passion! But Leonardo is already married to another woman, and this impulsive flight brings disgrace on both families. Only death can satisfy the village’s sense of dishonour.
The genre is defined in the programme as “Poetic realism” a paradox that is never going to be easy. The challenge of translating Lorca’s poetic Spanish into convincing English is met most successfully in the third Act where mime, dance and incantation are predominant. I found the first half of the play slightly unsatisfactory in many ways, and felt that the delivery of the lines needed a little more careful weighting, and some more ominous or ironic delivery. The duet “Turning, turning” with two female singers was badly sung and it should be cut.  
When the curtain rose on the final Act the dance and song were magic. The ballet sequence with the Moon dressed in white was wonderful and so was the following scene with its light effects and the miming of the chorus. The quality of the singing improved and the stylized enactment of the honour duel in which both men die was truly tragic in resonance. For the disgraced bride there is no future except as a beggar and an outcast. In this production, she is actually killed by her vengeful mother-in-law. There are many countries in the world today where that would still happen.
Without a doubt, Lorca hated Spain, and portrays it as a repressive, moribund and gloomy society. It exists only exists to stifle and frustrate people. The gypsy flamenco guitar music and dancing which are featured in the play, so passionate and intense, contrast strikingly with the village’s severe and punitive code of behaviour.

The mystery of why the bride could not marry Leonardo in the first place, before he married somebody else, is never explained. He is passionate and determined but also surly and cruel to his wife. At one point he actually throws her to the ground, and he is plainly no hero. Leonardo is the weakness of this production. His figure is neither youthful nor slender and the wardrobe mistress should find a corset for him as soon as possible. Failing that, a cummerbund two sizes too small would help, and a dark-coloured shirt would draw less attention to his middle.
The stars of the production are Mica Forrest as the Bride, Fleur Puit as Leonardo’s wife, Daniel Irving and Charlotte Evans as the Moon and Chorus, and Chrissie Boyd as Death, the old beggar-woman. Altogether a good chance to see a modern classic. 

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A highly stylised production of a, in my reading, rather full-bodied play, Alice Evans’ interpretation of Lorca’s Blood Wedding was unexpected. Unlike the last few Playhouse shows I have seen, this performance was rather sparse. Set-dragging scene changes were kept to a minimum, transformed into flamenco sequences. Props were, effectively, lacking. The stage, to begin with rather bare, felt still unoccupied after the first few dialogues setting out the plot and anticipating developments. Donna Doubtfire, as the Bridegroom’s Mother, offered a commanding presence from the outset, but Spanish-ness requires a bit more fire than a single figure could offer: Blood Wedding is not a subtle play! After an insipid opening, the famous Lullaby scene – well sung and acted, though a choicer translation might have achieved more by way of foreshadowing – felt unsatisfactory.
I only started really enjoying myself at the Betrothal scene, to be followed by a sequence of group wedding scenes. There were no spectacular feats of single dancers; flamenco elements were toyed with, but there were no fully-fledged numbers. And it worked. The overall liveliness was perfectly balanced and the audience’s attention was not forcefully focused to any single point on stage. I particularly appreciated the Servant (Layla Al-Katib) and Bridegroom (Craig Finlay)’s brief and beautiful flirt and Fleur Putt’s half-hearted, sorrowful clapping to a wedding dance rhythm. A real wedding celebration unfolded, crude, imprecise, human, alliances forged and disentangled: alive. The Father of the Bride (Andrew Whiffin) humanely urged in vain that references to blood and revenge should be abandoned at the joyous feast. Instead these abounded. The contrast between the self-conscious living up to patriarchal ideals and the natural, vivacious physicality of the group action pinnacled in a series of wedding tableaux. Ironically, individual performances only really stood out in a group context. The wedding photographs were rather gimmicky.

After a strong finale of Act II, the performance further developed after the interval. Tension was masterfully built up through more flamenco elements and singing. The occasional hiccup – Craig Finlay and James Reilly’s Leonardo just noticeably missed to clap simultaneously on entering their ultimate flamenco engagement – emphasised the ease with which a production of Blood Wedding can become an overacted cliché. And that this one manifestly did not. A particularly neat directorial solution was the transformation from a forest massacre to a domestic idyll through Death’s scattering of red yarn. All the pathos subsequent to the Bride (Mica Forrest) and James Reilly’s farewell was spared for the closing confrontation between the Bride and the Bridegroom’s Mother who, aided by Chrissie Boyd’s Death, offered a highly charged conclusion, more forceful than the text suggests. The ending was elegantly impulsive and unequivocal: eerily well fitting in its abruptness with the spontaneity of the earlier group scenes.

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