“a style of theatre I think Durham should embrace more”

Directing team Nancy Meakin and Ben Johanson have achieved no mean feat with their adaptation of Blood Wedding. They have turned Federico García Lorca’s tragedy into an intense and engaging piece of physical theatre. While I don’t necessarily agree with all the directing choices, the piece, with its stellar cast, definitely held my attention throughout.

The play is centred around The Mother, played triumphantly by Adela Hernandez Derbyshire, and is a nuanced portrait of the interaction between love and grief as she navigates her only surviving son’s wedding. Although it took her a while to warm up the character, once it was there, she gave a masterful performance. In particular, at the climax of the second act, I was moved almost to tears by the madness and humanity that simultaneously came through, and when she switched into Spanish, not a single bit of emotion was lost. She ended the show with a level of professionalism not often seen in student theatre.

The central love triangle of the play was portrayed by Raphael Kris, Charlie Culley, and Oscar Nicolson. Raphael and Charlie’s chemistry was electric as the forbidden lovers Leonardo and The Bride. I often blushed at the intensity of their connection, and credit must go to Amy Shelmerdine, the movement director, for choreographing such authentic intimacy without a single piece of clothing being removed. Playing The Groom, Nicolson gave a commendable performance, a malevolent misogyny seeping through the characters otherwise pleasant demeanour in the first act, moving to outright fury in the second act. Meakin should be praised for crafting a portrayal of violent masculinity without seeping into caricature.

Movement was utilised throughout the piece to create a surreal, dream-like feel. The opening sequence, with the ensemble equipped with white sheets, was visually stunning. However, it was slightly let down by the chemistry between Adela and Ben Johansson, stepping in to play her unnamed husband, being somewhat wooden. Elsewhere in the piece some of the movement seemed to lack purpose and intent, a trap physical theatre often falls into, but the dance number towards the end of Act 1 was simply joyous, and I could not keep my eyes of the fight scene at the end.

The set and tech deserve praise as well. Having heard some behind the scenes rumours, I arrived expecting the stage to be covered in sand, only to find decent coating just on the back of the stage. However, I have been informed by Tech Director Dragos Farcas that due to a delivery mix-up, only a quarter of the sand made it down the Bailey. I think stage manager Martin Ramalingum did a remarkable job dealing with this at short notice, but I can’t help thinking how visually stunning some of the movement sequences would have been with a thicker coating of sand – what an incredible creative idea. The lighting throughout was excellent thanks to the hard work of the technical team, although the choice to have no blackouts in the first act was mired by some cast members laughing during lit scene changes.

The show was fleshed out by a talented ensemble cast, my personal highlights being Eleanor Sumner as The Servant, bringing a comedic excellence to the piece, and Magnus Hopkins Powell as The Father, who gave a loveable, distinctly human performance. Also holding it together was a soundtrack put together by Chiara Fahy-Spada, with beautiful Spanish guitar music being mixed with more modern songs. The play was also immaculately cast and put together.

However, I did find that the show struggled to find its tone in certain moments. Ranging from comedic to deeply tragic, there were stark differences throughout the cast with the way the poetry was delivered, with both classical and modern theatrical styles sometimes jarring the experience. This brings me to the second act, which was described in the director’s note as “a burlesque ball-room where fluid sexualities and gender expression are permitted”. The intent behind this decision is commendable but might have translated more effectively onto stage, where the fluidity of gender seemed to amount mainly to some costume changes. I feel the emotional depths of this choice could have been explored more to avoid a slightly tokenistic feel.

Altogether, ‘Blood Wedding’ can be regarded as a great achievement. To combine physical theatre and poetry with the standard of acting seen is something to be commended, and a style of theatre I think Durham should embrace more.

By Maddie Hurley

‘Blood Wedding’ is playing at the Assembly Rooms Theatre until Saturday 12th March

Photo credits: Wrong Tree