Blood was very much the theme at the Dundee Rep on Friday evening (March 6), as we took our seats for Blood Wedding, a dark tale of love, lust, betrayal and revenge written in 1932 by Spanish poet and dramatist, Frederico García Lorca. The walls of the cafe bar were papered with blood-stained copies of the script, while in the auditorium, a blood-red mannequin was draped in a wedding gown: virginal white, with blood-red trim.
Re-worked into a stunning new contemporary version by David Ireland, Blood Wedding is the result of a collaboration between the Dundee Rep Ensemble, Derby Theatre and ground-breaking drama company Graeae, with Jenny Sealey at the helm.
From the outset, the drama oozes colour, energy and tension. Designer Lisa Sangster offers us a slightly chaotic vision of a family environment. It is the day before the wedding, and the actors can be seen interacting and wandering freely in the wings. Photographs are taken. Large neon letters, L,O,V and E (but not necessarily in that order) book-end a frame-like construction which not only provides a backdrop, but also serves as a screen. The hallmark of a Graeae production is the creative integration of sign language, audio description and captioning, enabling all audience members to fully engage with the performance. Jenny Sealey uses the term “Aesthetics of Access” to describe Graeae’s commitment to inclusion and diversity. The company has blazed a trail in recent years by placing Deaf and disabled artists centre-stage.
The play features a number of disabled actors but is never defined by disability. The emphasis is on movement, emotion, light and sound. The choreography, directed by Mark Smith, is confident and spellbinding, as disabled and non-disabled actors make full use of the stage. The scene where Olivia, the bride (Amy Conachan) wheelchair-dances with her father, Alex (Gerard McDermott), at her wedding is particularly well done. Philip Pinsky’s atmospheric soundtrack is interspersed with Elvis hits, their lyrics often foreshadowing a growing sense of disquiet.
One of the major themes of Lorca’s original play is a lack of communication. Not all the characters are equipped with the information they need to make judgements, and in Ireland’s adaptation, this realises itself in a sense of concealment. He has written the character of the bridegroom’s mother, Agnes, as a Deaf woman, so this difficulty in communication becomes especially poignant. Agnes, played with great depth and grace by EJ Raymond, needs an interpreter when in the company of those who cannot sign. Communication with the hearing world is challenging for Agnes, yet ironically, she is the character who has the most to say. Her scenes with her son, Edward, sensitively played by Ricci McLeod, are conveyed via a mixture of signing and captioning projected onto the set, and are both poetic, funny and tragic. The entire cast performed with great zest and ability, but Amy Conachan deserves a special mention. Her portrayal of the conflicted bride, Olivia, is powerful and convincing, and the young actress is a fresh and welcome face to the Rep stage.
Graeae’s Jenny Sealey, who co-directed the 2012 London Paralympic Games and is herself Deaf, summed up prevailing attitudes to disabled actors on stage in a recent BBC interview. Commenting on Dundee Rep’s recent investment in upgrading its disabled facilities, she said, “The physical access is crucial but the biggest barrier in theatre is attitude. It’s 2015 now and there’s sometimes that attitude that we don’t have the right to be on stage, and I think, yes we do. We are part of society, and we come with the richness of experience of having had to smash through barriers.”
Blood Wedding runs at Dundee Rep until March 14, and then travels to Derby Theatre, the Beacon Arts Centre in Greenock, Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre, New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich and the Everyman Playhouse in Liverpool.