Blood Wedding ★★★★

Bloody, bold and brilliant theatre does justice to the violence and passion of Lorca’s vision

Celebrated Jewish South African director Yaël Farber has a reputation for the power and physicality of her productions. Her treatment of Spanish playwright Federico Lorca’s dark fable grabs its audience by the throat from the get go and pulls it into his story of feuding families caught in a spiral of violence climaxing in the wedding of the title.

The spare lyricism of Marina Carr’s new English version intensifies the power of the storytelling. Shifting the action from Spain to a mythical Ireland reminiscent of the plays of JM Synge, the Irish playwright much admired by Lorca, gives the whole a allegorical quality, so that the blood feud could be read as standing for the deadly divisiveness of on-going conflicts ancient and modern.

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Like the Capulets and Montagues, the Felix and Gracia families have form in their murderous, testosterone-fuelled confrontations. The play opens with blood on the floor and a knife lying on the Gracia kitchen table, implying the violence to come. This is a world where the sexes are polarised too. Men rule the family fortunes and oversee the working of the land, while young women need “hips for the bearin’ of strappin’ big-boned chaps”, but the older generation of women run home and family with an iron hand. They earn their right to rule through hard work and suffering, embodied here by Olwen Fouéré’s fearsome widowed Mother of the bridegroom. An erect, fierce-eyed biblical matriarch cloaked in her long white hair, she holds sway over her son (David Walmsley, all impatient naivety) and intends to extend her authority to his prospective bride.

Learning that both father and older son died fighting the Felix men, and that the widow is devoted to their "bones down there” buried beneath the Gracia land, increases the sense of foreboding. So by the time Gavin Drea’s muscular, unsmiling Leonardo Felix (the only named character in the play) is confronted by his put-upon pregnant wife (Scarlett Brookes, touching in her feistiness) about his history with the bride, further reciprocal violence is a given.

Farber and designer Susan Hilferty draw the audience into the action, using every inch of the space, to especially thrilling effect when Leonardo grabs a descending winch to whirl around the arena in a breathless gallop on a white horse you can almost see. First he rides alone and later with Aoife Duffin’s vulnerable, knowing, runaway bride

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A slim imposing white-suited figure, Thalissa Teixeira’s Moon casts a spell of ominous beauty singing haunting songs by Isobel Waller-Bridge (sister of Fleabag's Phoebe). The whole company is pitch perfect: Steffan Rhodri’s tractable Father of the Bride, Ann Firbank as his comfortable housekeeper, Roger Jean Nsengiyumva and Faaiz Mbelizi as a pair of mystic Woodcutters, and Bríd Brennan's unnerving Weaver, spinning the bloody climax like the Fates. Each makes their own vital contribution to 180 thrilling minutes.

This is total theatre, where every element, every word spoken, every sinew of these extraordinary performers work to take their audience into the heart of darkness.

By Judi Herman

Photos by Marc Brenner

Blood Wedding runs until Saturday 2 November. 7.30pm, 2.30pm (Wed & Sat only). £10-£40. Young Vic, SE1 8LZ. 0207 922 2922.