Islington’s smallish Almeida Theatre has a reputation for enticing big-name international screen actors to appear. Kevin Spacey made his London debut there. Isabelle Huppert, Claire Bloom and others have also flown in form abroad to tread the Almeida’s boards. Now Mexican film actor Gael García Bernal, star of Amores Perros and Y Tu Mamá También, joins the company for Federico García Lorca’s dark tale.
Surprisingly, though, García Bernal isn’t the star of the show. There is no star; it’s very much an ensemble piece, with the cast of 13 pulling more or less equal weight throughout the play. Nor is he the only international name. The company includes performers from Iceland, Holland, Portugal and Ireland as well as Britons of African, Asian and Caribbean heritage. A rich mix. Director Rufus Norris uses it well.
Snatches of song from all parts of the globe weave through the 95-minute piece, giving this story of wedding, elopement and death a universal feel in addition to its Spanish atmosphere. It’s played more or less in modern dress, against very simple backdrops. Tim Mitchell’s lighting deliberately flattens everything, so figures move in an unreal dream-space as shadows flit and dance across screens behind them.
García Bernal is a stocky, physical presence as Leonardo, who’s pretty much fated to be the nemesis of the Groom. The Groom’s bitter mother, endlessly grieving, becomes naturally Irish in Rosaleen Linehan’s performance. Death and the Moon are personified too: Daniel Cerqueira’s Death wears his suit backwards and cracks unsettling gags, Assly Zandry hangs naked and glitter-encrusted from a trapeze as the Moon.
Usually, the thing to do with a Lorca play is to make it feel as Spanish as possible: hot, dusty, claustrophobic. But Norris succeeds by taking exactly the opposite tack. The story has that strange feeling of inevitability that you get in some dreams, and he’s given that feeling flesh and form on stage. If anything, it’s even more impressive than his staging of the film Festen, which also started out at the Almeida.
Written for Teletext.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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