The marriage of Yaël Farber with Marina Carr should be a transcendent thing – and, mostly, it is. But, like the eponymous wedding in Federico García Lorca’s tragic play, it also falls apart towards the end.
It’s about as polar opposite as it’s possible to be from Simon Stone’s contemporary, glass-boxed Yerma that was also seen at the Young Vic, in 2016. Where that take on Lorca was pretty much literal but transposed to modern day, Carr’s is a bruising metaphor for tribalism and disunity in society.
She has moved the story of two warring families and a doomed marriage to a strange hybrid of rural Spain and rural Ireland. Characters keep their Spanish names, but speak in Irish accents; guitar music plays in one instant, a jig the next.
Susan Hilferty has created a kind of bullring design, or maybe it’s a gladiatorial pit, with wood and mud floors. Either way, it’s a space where we expect violence to happen.
There’s so much rhythm and melody in Carr’s dialogue, and the language is cold and visceral; it’s blood, guts, bones, always dragging humanity down towards something animalistic. The older women talk about the younger ones in terms of whether they’ll “calve”. We’re not much better than the beasts, Carr seems to say.
As director, Farber adds exquisite detail and subtext (she also seems to be the only director whose productions have a distinct smell). As ever, she brings out some extraordinary performances from her actors. It’s superb just seeing Olwen Fouéré’s Mother – stern and unforgiving – and Bríd Brennan’s Neighbour spar, or Aoife Duffin’s Bride argue with Annie Firbank’s fantastically unflappable old housekeeper.
Wrapped around that carefully constructed realism is Farber’s keen sense of ritual. Characters scrub away blood with white rags, or light up a pipe – simple acts that always carefully augment the scene. Even when actors have to shift their own props and furniture off the stage, the way they do it tells us something about their character.
At its strongest, Farber balances the stylised elements – the ritualistic stuff – with the realism. But the ritual takes over, as does an arch and ponderous tone. When the mysterious woodcutters start to speak, and when Death gets involved, Carr’s language becomes purely poetic, and quite alienating.
Moments also descend, oddly, into a kind of paperback bodice-buster with Gavin Drea’s Heathcliff-esque Leonardo, a strapping young man tossing his forelocks and riding a horse bare-chested.
From the two families, the Felixes and Garcias, Farber and Carr force us to think about unforgivable rifts between tribes, fever pitches, and the ease with which it spills into violence.
In that sense, it’s a production that warns about the things that happened in Lorca’s life as well as his plays; he was, after all, killed during the rise of fascism that swallowed Spain in the 1930s. Farber and Carr let the play spill beyond its own narrative.
Even if it loses its way towards the end, the rest is a powerful mix of the beautiful and the brutal.