It could have been one of the great events in the Australian theatre calendar. Marion Potts, artistic director of the Malthouse, was directing one of the great dramatic masterpieces of the 20th century, Lorca’s Blood Wedding, and she was doing it with the Spanish actress Mariola Fuentes, whom we have seen on screen in some of the masterpieces of Almodovar. Well, Fuentes is a formidable presence as the Mother, at once fiery and sculpted, but the Malthouse production of Blood Wedding is cluttered with unco-ordinated multicultural clamour (all very Australian and loud and mannered) and it struggles to find a style that will deliver Lorca’s black diamond of a play with its fierce delineation of sex and death and vendetta. Nor are things helped by an overload of untranslated Spanish. By contrast, Red Stitch have mounted a production of a rather obvious and sentimental play, The Pride, which is beautifully directed by Gary Abrahams and affectingly performed by a cast led by the magnetic Ben Geurens, who may not be flawless in their English accents but who capture the life and lilt of what the theatre can do.
Blood Wedding is a staggering beauty of a play, brutal and extraordinary. Boy decides to marry girl and the Mother sees only the shadow of the deaths of men and the griefs of women. Then the bride runs away with a former lover and doom flames like a comet.
Marion Potts’ production takes place in a huge sandpit that seems to yearn for the nearest bull. At the back of one edge of the stage there is a towering trellised wall that seems to connote the powers of repression and death. At one edge of the overly vast playing space (for no reason that seems open to human understanding) there are a group of fridges full of bottles of water and lemonade. The Spanish countryside, we hear tell, is hot and dry.
Marion Potts has elected to stage Blood Wedding with lashings of the original Spanish (a language she speaks) punctuating Raimondo Cortes’s efficient idiomatic translation, some of it spoken with what sounds like poetic authority by Fuentes and with other bits got up by the literally multicultural cast — with the admirable Nicole Da Silva as the Wife and the striking Silvia Colloca as the Bride — whose backgrounds seem to endow them by magic with the right to be loud, ‘ethnic’ and jolly. This succeeds in the first half of this tapered 90-minute version of a play, at once graphic and lyrical, in obscuring the knife-sharp line of exposition — more particularly when the cornerstone of the play, Fuentes’ Mother, is present either in torrents of emotively powerful if literally unintelligible Spanish or in a heavily accented English that we’re never quite allowed to get used to.
In the second half of the play, when the director is deprived of the opportunity to get her cast to jabber and cavort to house music like a team of assorted workers getting their rocks off at one of Melbourne’s inner-urban fiestas, things get a bit better.
The stage darkens, the spots of white light grow in portent and danger and the sense of a symbolic language full of familiar and strange passions gets the beginning of a foothold. Even so, the understandable technique of having lines of English translation spoken almost simultaneously with some of the more formalised lyricism of the original is only half-successful because it is allowed to compete emotively with the Spanish whereas it should simply underlie it like a voiced subtitle.
Still, some measure of Lorca’s sombre, stabbing quality, at once ceremonious and stark, does peep through the dark. All eyes were on Fuentes (who had Equity’s approval even though she was a foreign import), but it’s a pity that this distinguished actress was subject to a production that was never allowed to establish its own idiom and which went for ethnicity rather than for Lorca’s transfiguration of the folk poetry of Spain.
The universality of Lorca’s dramatic poetry comes from the fact that his peasants are fierce aristocrats of the spirit. The last thing they are to themselves is quaintly Spanish, so that Potts’ multicultural twist is peculiarly maladroit.
The Pride, on the other hand, is skilfully articulated, and at the level of breezy, not unmoving soap it constitutes a satisfying entertainment that is given dignity and dash by strong performances that move at precisely the right pace.
One part of the action, whereby an almost imperceptibly troubled couple, the husband bisexual and admitting nothing, meet up with a sensitive homosexual writer chap, is set in the far-off 1950s past. Then there are the splendours and miseries of a young gay sex addict whose boyfriend leaves him because he can’t stop sucking the dicks of strangers in random places. He is ministered to by a loving if feckless young fag hag who wants more time for her real boyfriend.
It’s done by Red Stitch with utter energy and dispatch. Of the trio, Lyall Brooks (last seen in MTC’s The Heretic) is a little bit straight and sturdy as the husband/boyfriend and his presence robs the production of the extra inch of boy-on-boy glam and panache that might have resulted if, say, Ashley Zuckerman, who was superb in Kenneth Lonergan’s This is Our Youth a few years ago had again partnered Ben Geurens in The Pride, or if an older actor of effortless authority like Dion Mills, had taken the role.
Geurens is terrific. He is an actor with real presence: great staring expressive eyes and a voice that could dominate a much larger space than the Red Stitch closet. The Melbourne Theatre Company used to misuse him but he brings a world of sensibility, as well as whining and wheedling campiness, to this conjunction of juicy roles. Ngaire Dawn Fair shimmers and slides and is compellingly starry as the wife/slut /minder and comes across with the authority of a younger Kat Stewart.
No one’s accent in this production is perfect (and hers slides into generic London ditz), but everyone including Lyall Brooks and Ben Prendergast (in a couple of minor roles) gives reality to this mild, skilful crowd-pleaser and ensures that it sings with feeling and the illusion of life because of Gary Abrahams’ production.
He assisted Simon Phillips on both Almodovar’s All About My Mother — with its embedded quotation from Blood Wedding — and the Joanna Murray-Smith/Bernadette Robinson one-hander Songs for Nobodies, and both productions showed his signature.
We should give him the biggest stages around. Let him do Lorca. Let him do Lear.Tags: iapps