“Dingen die zo diep aankomen die krijgt geen mens eruit”
I knew that the main show I booked for my stay in Amsterdam would be surtitled in English but in the hunt for something to do the night before, I couldn’t help but be a little adventurous (crazy) and book for a piece of Dutch theatre in Dutch in the Netherlands. So I went for Bloedbruiloft (Blood Wedding) as it’s a play I know and was being produced by the new directors scheme at Toneelgroep Amsterdam. Plus the thought of seeing a piece of theatre entirely in a foreign language had a definite thrill about it, and one which was borne out in some of the most exciting, crazy, intense theatre I’ve seen all year.
It is just an extraordinary reworking (tekstbewerking being the fabulous Dutch word for adaptation) of the text that takes the frame of Lorca’s writing but utterly shifts the context. The focus falls squarely on the family, the community of people in this village and the intensity of emotion it provokes between its inhabitants – whether the mother and her beloved son, or his intended bride and the forbidden fruit that is neighbour Leonardo. This approach also plays up when these relationships are inequal – the disdain between Leonardo and his devoted and constantly fretting wife, the fatal mismatch between bridegroom and bride.
And visually, director Julie Van den Berghe uses a kind of boldness that we just don’t see hardly anything of here in the UK. The show opens in silence, the cast with their backs to us, and as they eventually turn round they resemble nothing so much as a talking portrait of the Munsters or the Addams Family, illuminated from above by the parameters of a house. When that house (stunning design all around by André Joosten) descends onto the set for the wedding – the arrival of the constraints of domestication – the party that ensues is strange and beautiful, tragic and tragicomic. Frieda Pittoors’ enigmatic and enticing – alluring even – maid is also excellent.
Music is infused throughout but its role alters during the show – the baleful sound of folk songs is present, though closer to Amsterdam than Andalucía, and as the wedding kicks in, the thumping Eurobeat rhythms prefigure the seismic changes about to occur to all concerned. And in the midst of these wildly disparate elements is some truly fierce acting – Chris Nietvelt (burning with an intensity akin to Isabelle Huppert here) is astounding as the domineering matriarch, Robert De Hoog pleasingly nerdish as the mummy’s boy bridegroom and Lauranne Paulissen most affecting as the bride, seduced by the easy yet brooding charisma of Dragan Bakema’s Leonardo.
Did I understand a word of it? Not a jot. Did it matter? It really didn’t, this was theatre to be felt and boy did I feel it. Clearly there’s nuances I’ll have missed, even entire elements that might have passed me by (I’m pretty sure the woodcutters, moon and Death had been excised), but the experience was simply unmissable, complete in everything I wanted it to be. And there’s something inordinately refreshing about the way in which such a classic was handled here – Van den Berghe’s audacious approach unconcerned with how Lorca ‘should’ be done (I can feel many a print critic twitching at the very thought of this) yet still finding an integrity in doing things so differently.
If Ivo van Hove can be tempted to direct at the Young Vic, then one has to hope that there’s somewhere willing to take an artistic risk on Van den Berghe and showcase her own inventiveness in the UK. Undoubtedly it would provoke hugely divisive reactions (see I Am The Wind) but theatre that stirs the soul, no matter which way, is the best kind.