Blood Wedding, Almeida, London

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The Independent Culture

The plays of Federico Garcia Lorca are damnably difficult to pull off on the English stage.

The plays of Federico Garcia Lorca are damnably difficult to pull off on the English stage. To the Anglo-Saxon temperament, communicating mild dyspepsia in Dorking comes much easier than conveying volcanic passion in Andalucia. The equivalent of a white handkerchief tends to be draped over Lorca's sun-baked dramas, or there's a desperate resort to cultural tourism - castanets, cicadas,wiped brows - that can feel as close to real thing as a Morris dance is to a bullfight.

Rufus Norris's brilliantly imaginative production of Blood Wedding avoids all such traps and creates its own compelling and coherent poetic world. Oddly, its strength does not lie where you'd expect - in the casting of the young Mexican film-star, Gael Garcia Bernal, as Leonardo, the dangerous figure who elopes with the woman he once loved on the day of her marriage to a man from an enemy family.

I have much admired Bernal's performances in films such as Amores Perros and The Motorcycle Diaries. But, while the camera dotes on his soulful face, which might have been designed for the close-up, in the perpetual long-shot of theatre you're aware that the noble head seems to have been grafted on to a body that is too unimposing for it. Bernal hasn't sufficient stage presence to convince as a homme fatale, and his delivery of the English script has intonations not always in synch with the natural emphases in the lines.

In most other respects, though, the production comes over as a striking experiment in cracking the Lorca problem by pruning the text of what cannot be translated without sounding false and forced, and then transferring the poetry to non-linguistic areas, such as the set, music, and lighting. Tanya Ronder has prepared her astutely crafted version with this end in view. With its burning red walls, its heat-struck starkness, its charged use of a few objects to evoke an entire house, and its taste for poetic paradox (the talking Moon is here represented by a glistening naked black woman who emerges from beneath, dangling from a trapeze, the production achieves a hypnotic hold.

There's macabre comedy in the shape of Death, who appears as a poncy, whistling MC. It's a disturbing touch that he takes over the grandmother's far-from-soothing lullaby about the symbolic horse - if there's a deficiency in this staging, it's that one would at times like the production to be champing at the bit of erotic desire a touch more palpably.

Brilliant use of shadow play in the wedding scene intensifies our sense of the primitive rituals and the social bewilderment under cover of which the lovers abscond. And the Irish actress Rosaleen Linehan is superb as the Mother, unable to disguise a kind of haughty, satisfied air of vindication when it all turns out as grim as she'd feared.

To 18 June (020-7359 4404). A version of this review has appeared in some editions

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