I'm a huge fan of Project Arts Centre. Time after time they've impressed me with the exceptionally high quality of the plays they present, so I was hopeful that Blood Wedding would be yet another great production. It's an English-language version of Federico Garcia Lorca's 1932 play Bodas de Sangre, a story of love and death set in rural Spain and inspired by real events.
Unfortunately Blood Wedding doesn't quite live up to the high standard I'm used to from Project Arts Centre. It's not bad - in fact I enjoyed it - but it has its flaws.
Let's look at some of the positives first. Right at the top of the list is the sheer size of the cast. Frequently plays seem to consist of a bear minimum number of actors, presumably for cost reasons. It's wonderful to see a play use so many actors that the stage is full of life and action. For wedding scenes, this is a good approach and works well, although the size of the stage limits the exuberance of the dancing. The production also uses strobe lighting to good effect.
Some of the acting also deserves praise. Liam Halley (Leonardo), Laura Brennan (the bride) and Angel Hannigan (Leonardo's wide) all have moments of brilliance, as do others.
Unfortunately though they're struggling against a difficult script. Lorca was a poet as well as a playwright, and the language reflects that. This is very much a matter of personal taste but to me the mix of naturalistic scenes near the start of the play with the more poetic, metaphorical approach later in the play just doesn't work very well. (I don't think that's a problem with this production - it's how Lorca wrote the play.)
There's a similarly jarring difference in the acting styles used to portray the characters. At times the play seems like a Greek tragedy; Noelle Brennan (as the groom's mother) has a touch of the Medea to her. By contrast Hugh Stuart's very entertaining acting as the father of the bride is in the style of a Dion Boucicault character. There's nothing wrong with either style (in fact they're both good in their own right), but putting them together just breaks the suspension of disbelief.
At times, too, the acting seems a little overdone and melodramatic. The leading actors are sufficiently experienced that I'm inclined to put this down in part to Lorca's play rather than the actors. (There are several relatively new actors in minor roles but they carry off their supporting roles quite well.)
There was a full house on Friday night and the audience seemed to enjoy the play. I'd love to be able to unambiguously recommend Blood Wedding, but with the quality of Irish theatre being as high as it is, I can give only a qualified recommendation. Perhaps Lorca's play just doesn't travel well. Fairly enjoyable, but flawed.
Tickets cost €15. Blood Wedding runs until 30th April 2011. Duration 100 minutes including interval.