In the blood-line

Federico Garcia Lorca's work is as Spanish as flamenco dance or the Catholic mass. So can its rhythms register on an English stage? By Trader Faulkner

Deeply rooted as they are in Andalusian tradition, the plays of Federico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936) are virtually impossible to translate into English.

Nothing daunted, two of our leading theatre companies, the Young Vic in London and the Northern Stage Company in Newcastle, are currently poised to present parallel stagings of Lorca's Blood Wedding - the first in a new translation by the Poet Laureate, Ted Hughes, the second in a version by the Irish poet, Brendan Keneally. Meanwhile, early next year, Hollywood will release The Assassination of Lorca, a new film, starring Andy Garcia, based upon Ian Gibson's ground-breaking investigation into the poet's death.

Concerning Blood Wedding, the first - and most difficult to stage - of the three modern classics (alongside Yerma and The House of Bernarda Alba) upon which Lorca's reputation largely now rests, the playwright was specific: "In my poetic tragedy Blood Wedding, I have tried to disinter the very beginnings of drama in that most primitive of dramatic structures, the Catholic Mass, and, as in symphonic music, each of my plays has its own particular rhythm which must be observed."

Back in the 1970s, I took Lorca's sister Isabel, who had sat in with her brother on rehearsals for the premiere of Blood Wedding in Madrid in 1933, to a London performance of one of his plays in English. "Well?" I asked. "What do you think?"

"In my brother's plays, you have to think fast. They don't have the rhythm right."

Ted Hughes sees the problem of "pulling it off with Lorca" as stemming from what the Spanish refer to as "Flema Britanica" (British phlegm) - our native temperament, in other words. What is natural to Lorca's characters in Blood Wedding lies, according to Hughes, in "the explosion behind each word, the great howl behind it all... the inner ferocity and the outer simplicity". "Spanish," he concludes simply, "can't be Englished."

Blood Wedding, Yerma, The House of Bernarda Alba, Dona Rosita the Spinster (with its Chekhovian resonances) and the little-known surrealist play, When Five Years Have Passed (finished on 19 August 1931, five years to the day before he was killed) - all serve to illustrate the central theme of Lorca's work, a deep frustration, into which are woven the permutations of time, love and death.

Perhaps the most successful English approach to Lorca so far has been Lindsay Kemp's Cruel Garden, a piece he created for Ballet Rambert in 1979. Subsequently televised for the BBC, this electric evocation of Lorca, through characters in his literature, brought the poet visually into focus by means of modern dance. An equally vivid realisation, this time in terms of flamenco, was the Antonio Gades/ Carlos Saura film of Blood Wedding.

Successful as both interpretations were in refashioning Lorca's imagery as dance-dramas, they did of course omit the main ingredient - the playwright's unique speech rhythms and poetic style. Lorca wrote to be spoken (and sung). "Once printed," he said, "my words lie dead on the page."

As a young actor in the Fifties, determined to reveal the enigmatic man behind the mask of the poet, through a combination of his own words, his songs and his native Spanish dance, I began to study flamenco in the Sacromonte Caves of Granada. One day, the gypsy girl who was teaching me showed me - by dancing her flamenco soleres, while her brother accompanied her, not on the guitar, but simply by reciting one of Lorca's famous Gypsy Ballads - the subtle complexities of Lorca's writing that are lost in translation.

Apart from his varied gifts as a dramatist, theatre director, actor and designer, as a poet who became the "vox populi" for the many illiterate Andalusians who recited his Gypsy Ballads without being able to read them, and as an artist (his friend Salvador Dali once organised a successful exhibition of Lorca's drawings in Barcelona), Lorca had also trained as a musician. According to his musical mentor, the composer Manuel de Falla, he had the talent to become an international concert pianist; in Spain, New York, Cuba and Argentina, people listened fascinated as he accompanied his own songs at the piano. He was lionised wherever he went. But he was a man with a guilty secret..

Wildly attracted during his adolescence in Granada to two beautiful girls who didn't respond, shy to approach them and uneasy in their presence, Lorca soon discovered that "I share certain passions with Oscar Wilde and the wonderful Verlaine. I too carry a lily that cannot be watered."

Given Granada's macho society of rigid, provincial Catholicism, it's not difficult to understand in retrospect Lorca's terror of revealing his sexual identity. Today he could have come out of the closet with gay abandon. But would he have become the writer that perhaps his sterile loneliness made him? Or the close friend that both Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel envied?

That stormy triangular friendship began when they were undergraduates at the Residencia, Madrid's Oxbridge of the 1920s. Lorca was mentally and physically obsessed by Dali. Dali resisted. The macho, anarchistic Bunuel became jealous of the artistic affinity between poet and painter and ultimately succeeded in alienating Dali from Lorca's charismatic influence. In 1927, Dali and Bunuel collaborated to make the surrealist film Un Chien Andalou, a succes fou in Paris. Its title and one of its characters are a parody on Lorca. Lorca, feeling utterly betrayed, referred to it as "esa mierdecita asi de pequenita" (that little shit of a film).

Jilted by his boyfriend, a sculptor - who had, the poet lamented, "abandoned me to Marry! ... A Woman! ... English! ... who works for Elizabeth Arden!" - and needing to get free of Europe, Lorca arrived in New York in 1929 to enrol for a course in English at Columbia University. He never managed to learn a word. He was in Wall Street the morning of the Crash, which he described in 16 lines of graphic prose. His New York Poems, some of the finest he wrote, contain a blistering indictment of the materialism and inhumanity to be found in any great metropolis today. Thereafter, until his assassination, his literary and theatrical genius flowered.

Shot by the Fascist Black Squad at dawn on 19 August 1936, Lorca is buried in an unmarked grave with three others: along with two small-time bullfighters and a school teacher with a wooden leg, the grave digger remembered a poet who wore a little bow tie.

The moon drifts like an obsession through Lorca's poetry. As Greenwich Observatory has confirmed, on the night of 18 August 1936, there was no moon.

n `Blood Wedding': Ted Hughes version opens Friday, Young Vic, The Cut, London SE1 (0171-928 6363); Brendan Keneally version opens 23 October, Newcastle Playhouse (0191 230 5151)

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
    World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

    Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

    The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
    Why the league system no longer measures up

    League system no longer measures up

    Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
    Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

    Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

    Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
    Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

    Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

    The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
    Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

    Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

    Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

    Holocaust Memorial Day

    Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
    Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

    Magnetic north

    The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness