night falls over innocence

peter barclay: the bloody bride, lismore

Kyas Sherriff, Shane Nagle, Ed Wightman, The Bloody Bride

Kyas Sherriff, Shane Nagle, Ed Wightman, The Bloody Bride

IN JULIAN LOUIS’ PRODUCTION OF THE BLOODY BRIDE, A DARK CYCLORAMA CURVES ABOVE THE STAGE, SHADOWY LIKE A GNARLED FIG TREE IN THE DYING LIGHT OF A SWELTERING DAY; BEYOND, A HINT OF MOON AND STARS. BELOW, A BEAT-UP OLD CARAVAN WITH MAKESHIFT AWNING: AN ESKY, A DIRTY RED ARMCHAIR AND SOLID WOODEN PICNIC TABLE. LIGHTS INSIDE THE CARAVAN AND MUFFLED MUSIC OVERDUBBED WITH INAUDIBLE WHISPERS ALL FEED A SENSE OF MENACE AND CLAUSTROPHOBIA. THE SOUND SEGUES INTO BEATING WINGS AND THE STAGE IS SUDDENLY FILLED WITH THOUSANDS OF SCREECHING BATS PASSING OVERHEAD—THE EFFECT IS STRIKING AND LOADED.

The teeming ritual nocturnal flight of the fruit bat is familiar to anyone who knows New South Wales’ North Coast sunsets in summer. But the theatrical image, reminiscent of Goya’s painting The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters, signals something beyond the naturalistic. In this impressive new work by Hilary Bell, we will be drawn into a metaphorical world of innocence corrupted by passionate desire, repressed sexuality, jealousy, nihilism and death; unusually heightened themes for Australian theatre.

The bats having passed over, now we are thrust into the lives of the three protagonists triangulated about the stage—Cassie (Kyas Sherriff) and Darren (Ed Wightman), a naive young couple from Lismore, and Leo an Irish ‘tourist’ (Shane Nagle). Having just met at a local pub before returning to Leo’s caravan on the outskirts of town, they are already drunk and the dialogue is sexually charged. Leo is the agitator here. Cassie appears to be enjoying the flirtation but Darren is awkward in his attempts to keep face against the jibes of this older, worldly rival. “Would you kill for her?”, challenges Leo while offering Cassie a drag on a mysterious ‘cigarette.’ Cassie accepts and is almost immediately aroused by an intense sensual reverie. When Darren asks what’s in the smoke, he is told “magic powder from Spain.” Leo chides, “Do whatever you want with her!” until Darren too takes a drag. In the final moments of this opening scene, as the action swiftly descends into a Dionysian underworld of projection and sound, we are confronted with the disturbing image of the frenzied young couple fucking on the picnic table while the tourist masturbates as he listens from the dirty red armchair.

There is something of a hint as to the genesis of The Bloody Bride in the ‘Spanish cigarette.’ Louis’ creative team were looking to contemporise Lorca’s masterpiece Blood Wedding into an Australian setting. There are some similarities between the works. Both deal with the clash of love/responsibility and desire/abandonment. And in each piece fatalism inexorably impels the action toward its conclusion. Leo might be the reincarnation of Leonardo—his murky past directly connects him to Lorca’s character. But the different settings make for different resolutions and the love triangle at the heart of both works unfold to very different effect. Lorca’s focus is lust, jealousy and revenge—the three protagonists all victims of a repressed and superstitious society. Stylistically, the intense Catholicism and ritual folkloric poetry of Lorca’s Spain don’t translate. The passionate Leonardo of Blood Wedding is not the machiavellian Leo of The Bloody Bride.

Instead, as Hilary Bell points out in her Writer’s Notes, the Lorca story becomes a departure point for an original work. Bell’s Leo has lost all desire–nihilism has become his creed, purity his enemy. As Leo draws Cassie and Darren into his suicidal plan, he is not, like Leonardo, driven by lust so much as the schadenfreude of destroying unsullied love. In Bell’s rendering, the love triangle becomes a metaphor for the loss of innocence at the hands of corruption. Ironically, this structural frame echoes the biblical story of Eden as Cassie is drawn into temptation knowing full well the world will rebel. There are moments when the tension between naturalism and metaphor threaten the suspension of disbelief. But there are still other moments of powerful emotional intensity. Ed Wightman’s portrayal of Darren’s vulnerability is particularly moving. As the sun rises and the bats flock home from their nocturnal feeding at the end of The Bloody Bride, there has been one death not two (as in Lorca’s play) and the naive young couple are forever changed.

The Bloody Bride marks a promising beginning to NORPA’s Generator program designed to develop new work. The audience at the performance I attended sat rapt throughout this swift, dark journey into the intimate emotions and conflicting ethics of relationships and sexuality. This is a most provocative piece of theatre and deserves to be seen beyond the North Coast.

NORPA, Generator Program, The Bloody Bride, writer Hilary Bell, director Julian Louis, dramaturg Janis Balodis, performers Shane Nagle, Kyas Sherriff, Ed Wightman, design Rita Carmody, lighting design Verity Hampson, sound design Toby Alexander, projection artist Marion Conrow; Star Court Theatre, Lismore, August 21-22.

RealTime issue #87 Oct-Nov 2008 pg. 18

© Peter Barclay; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 October 2008
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