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Stage Review: Blood Wedding

Blood Wedding. Photograph: Contributed/Marc Brenner. - Credit: Archant

Aoife Duffin delivers a haunting mixture of fragility and defiance in this ‘stunning production’.

Theatre is about melting the ice within, of awakening dormant cells, of making us more fully alive, more fully human, at once more individual and more connected to each other. I wish I’d written that, but it was in fact Franz Kafka and it seems to me as good a way as any of defining what it is we hope for when we take our seats in the stalls.

Seldom, of course, do the plays I review tick all of Kafka’s boxes, but, somewhat miraculously, Yaël Farber’s Blood Wedding manages a straight six. I find myself struggling to find the words to do justice to what I saw, but I will put magical, evocative, dreamlike and beautiful out there just to get started.

The masterstroke of Marina Carr’s adaptation is to switch the action from rural Spain to rural Ireland, where Aoife Duffin’s young bride is about to wed David Walmsley’s respectable, if dull, young groom, while being pursued all the while by Gavin Drea’s wild-haired and dangerous Leonardo. The groom’s mother – played with mesmerising intensity by Olwen Fouéré – says the interloper is a gypsy and his murderous family has made a widow out of her and she will not stand for him ruining her son’s chance of happiness.

This is a play about humanity at its most basic and primal and the language that Carr employs in her adaptation – along with Susan Hilferty’s design and of course the actors – manages to capture all of the poetry of Federico García Lorca’s original work, which was written in 1932 as part of his ‘rural trilogy’, along with Yerma and The House of Bernarda Alba.

There are obvious resonances with the Troubles in Ireland, and, sadly, knife crime because it begins with Fouéré’s anguished stream of consciousness about the power of the blade and how much misery it has brought to her family over the years. The cast includes a lot of venerable actors – not just Fouéré, but also Annie Firbank as the housekeeper and Bríd Brennan as a mysterious weaver – and, with the younger performers, they help to give not just gravitas to the proceedings, but also a sense of the passage of time, and perhaps, too, the ultimate pointlessness of human endeavour.

Visually, it is a stunning production with some amazingly imaginative scenes – Drea metamorphosing into a steed and cantering majestically around the stage, and Duffin, in her wedding dress, being raised into the heavens. Faaiz Mbelizi and Roger Jean Nsengiyumva play a couple of woodcutters who add much to the sense of foreboding as they walk around the stage unblinkingly, as if in a trance.

Every member of the ensemble hits the heights, but Duffin will remain ingrained in my memory for a long time: a haunting mixture of fragility and defiance. If she doesn’t pick up some acting awards for this pivotal performance, there is no justice in the world.

Rating: 5/5

Catch Blood Wedding at the Young Vic, London, until November 2