London seems a long way from rural Andalusia, where Federico García Lorca set his Bodas de sangre (Blood Wedding, 1932). Lorca endowed his play with a strong sense of place. Written not long after his year-long trip to New York, where he had felt something of a cultural alien despite his strong identification with the African American population of Harlem, the play represented a sort of homecoming, both to his native region of Spain and to its poetic universe. The setting is strongly reminiscent of the wide valley to the north of Granada where he lived as a boy and spent many of his summers as a teenager, divided as it is between well-watered and fertile areas and drier areas further away from the rivers and irrigation ditches. The play also takes much of its poetry from the songs of the region, both from the luminous world depicted in the wedding songs and from the dark universe of cante jondo (deep song) – the ancient and, for Lorca, more authentic forerunner of flamenco song whose references to the night and the wind, to the moon, fate and murderous knives he had already made his own in the poems of Romancero gitano (Gypsy Balladeer, 1928) and Poema del cante jondo (Poem of Deep Song, 1931). The world evoked by the play, with its vivid cultural forms and strong social codes, is both deeply rooted and highly stylised, with the poetry helping to transform it into a mythical place, where names (and characters) are mostly generic rather than individualised and the forces that control the characters’ lives are given a physical presence onstage.
This production has cleverly transported much of this world to its new setting in contemporary London. The Son might have exchanged his land for a restaurant and Leo his horse for a motorbike, but all the characters are first- or second-generation immigrants from rural Andalusia who continue to negotiate the world through the cultural forms and social codes they have inherited. For the older generation, those born and brought up in Andalusia, these forms and codes are perhaps stronger and more urgent still than for their children, for whom they have become fused with those of the (in some ways increasingly hostile) environment in which they have been born and raised. The issues the characters face as they deal with their sexual urges and sexual jealousy, with the notion of family honour, with the conflict between individual freedom and inherited duty are in fact issues faced daily by all members of all communities, and indeed by each and every human being, while the sense of fate and foreboding that hangs over the production, as it does over the original play, strikes an atavistic chord inside all of us. The ubiquitous presence of the knife is a reminder of the terrible violence that haunts the world of cante jondo, that brought Lorca’s own life to a premature end, and that tragically destroys the lives of so many young people on the streets of London today.
Dr Stephen Roberts is a Professor of Spanish Lit at Nottingham University. He will be at Omnibus Theatre on Saturday 15 Sept for a pre-show talk about Lorca, free for Blood Wedding ticket holders. Get your tickets HERE→