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The harder you laugh, the harder you cry | Simone Spiteri

Set to be the break-out production of this theatrical season, the Manoel Theatre’s take on Federico Garcia Lorca’s Blood Wedding will be staged over just one weekend – May 10, 11 and 12. We caught up with director Simone Spiteri to ask how she coped with such an impassioned, monumental piece of theatre.

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic
27 April 2013, 12:00am
The ensemble cast for Simone Spiteri’s production of Lorca’s Blood Wedding, playing at the Manoel Theatre.
The ensemble cast for Simone Spiteri’s production of Lorca’s Blood Wedding, playing at the Manoel Theatre.
Obsession

"I studied this play at University over 10 years ago and watched it performed in various languages since - even in ones I don't understand - and what always struck me about it was that no matter the language, the style of production or design the strength of the central theme of the play always stood out loud and clear.

"The play, though a rural tale of an insular community that is collectively responsible for the blood that is shed in the end is essentially a story about the age-old conflict between head and heart. After deciding that I would work on a classic it was not difficult to choose this one as it's always ranked high in my 'wish list'.

"The greatest challenge is also, ironically, the play's strong point too. The text is heavy with metaphor and my main challenge was to keep reminding my cast to never let go of the narrative woven through it, to always keep the audience engaged in the story and the journey of these people who Lorca chooses not to name and are essentially reflections of various roles we all prescribe to at some point or other within the society we live in."

Casting: a culinary experiment

"It took me five months to cast this play. Five gut-wrenching months to sift through a huge number of people who showed interest in being in this play (over 60 people auditioned). I wouldn't say that we're short of actors in Malta, on the contrary, but it took me so long for a number of reasons. I assimilate casting to either a scientific or culinary experiment.

"As the 'scientist' or 'chef' I must be exact in the way I choose and assemble my ingredients, make sure that the ingredients complement each other, bring out the best of themselves and the others as a result of that and that everything is measured in such a way that it provide the ideal balance.

"Casting is like that: yes, you do need talented actors but you also need people who are dynamic, can work with other people (in this case a massive group of actors), are flexible, fit the part, sometimes look it too and also complement the person they will be acting against. In some cases the proverbial shoe slipped into place as soon as I saw certain actors, for some other parts I had to really try and re-think my initial notion of a character and play jigsaw puzzle for a while.

"In the end I always go for what my instinct says is right - no matter how long it takes. But it was worth it, I think every single person in this production is perfectly suited to their role and those angst-ridden five months have paid off as work in rehearsals is very smooth as a result."

Passion, not melodrama

"You counter any potential melodrama in the script by looking for every single line, pause or moment that is light or funny or joyous. As audience members or readers of classics, or sometimes just through cultural influence we label works as tragedy or comedy in their entirety and often forget that while, for example, Romeo and Juliet is indeed a tragedy and is about love, it is also funny and bawdy and mischievous and bloody, coarse, violent and essentially about two immature teenagers. The same can be said of Blood Wedding. Blood is shed and the Bride, Leonardo and the Groom's plight is heartbreaking (depending on whose point of view you take) but at the end of the day two thirds of it is a build up to THE wedding of the village and it naughty, comic, loud, joyous, chaotic, touching and spectacular.

"The harder you laugh the more you feel the punch of tragedy when misfortunate strikes later on."

The heart will have its way

"For me the central theme is that the heart, our human instinct, always has its way in the end. Regardless of the consequences. My favourite line in the play is said by Leonardo. He says: 'One thinks time is a cure, and the walls will shut things out, and it's not true, it's not true. When flames reach the heart, they cannot be quenched!' I love it because it is so beautiful but it breaks my heart every time he says it because while it is true and wonderful if it happens to those who afford to welcome those flames openly, so many people live life trying to suppress those same flames because they don't have the same opportunity to embrace them for a variety of reasons. And I think that's what Lorca's point was that in the (sometimes very) long run.

"Nothing can stop us from going down the path our heart or instinct is drawn towards. Not even ourselves, even though most people seem to try so hard to be their own obstacle and enemy."

Basic shapes

"I work very closely with my crew and I'm not the kind of director who ropes in my team during production week. I start discussing my ideas for how things look in my head months before we even start the first rehearsal and I started discussing set, costumes, hair, makeup, props, lights and photos with Pierre Portelli, Victoria Vella, Giuseppe Agulli, Martino Nociforo, Christine Tong, Chris Gatt and Andrew Rizzo all throughout the winter.

"I wanted to strip down the visuals to basic shapes, colours, spaces and not tie ourselves to any particular time period because what is happening to the people in the play is universal - we all love, hate, want revenge, lust after people and possessions. And I wanted those primordial human elements to drive the play first and foremost."

And what about the music?

"I have worked with Tim Ellis and Chris Cini [of local folk act Stalko] for years now, since they are also our in-house musicians in my own theatre group - so we have a very organic process of working together that has been perfected over the years. I usually work with Tim months before they even write the first note or I start a rehearsal and just talk to him about the 'mood' I envisage for each piece of music we require.

"I sometimes just give him keywords, or send him bits of text and later on they sometimes watch what's happening among the actors at the point the music is played, or sometimes we hear them first and then devise the action around it. We bounce off each other's work really and because we are so comfortable working with each

other we often find that things develop and expand almost till the end of the rehearsal process. Stalko have been working on melodious but slightly eerie score for this play because while there is the prospect of a wedding pretty much throughout the entire play heartbreak, blood, violence and the malevolent forces of nature are always lurking around the corner."

The play begins at 20:00. Tickets are at €15, €12 and €10. Bookings:
[email protected], 21 246389,
http://booking.mcc.com.mt/Event/1270/


teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic is MaltaToday's culture editor and film critic. He joined t...
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