Romeo and Juliet / Blood Wedding

Glasgow's Citizens Theatre gives us a double dose of star-crossed lovers and revenge with a programme that includes both 'Romeo and Juliet' and its modern counterpart 'Blood Wedding'.

Feature by Yasmin Sulaiman | 15 Feb 2006
In Baz Lurhman's 1996 film adaptation of 'Romeo and Juliet', a little known Clare Danes played Juliet. However, the coveted part had been sought after by many a more accomplished - and famous - actress: Kate Winslet, Christina Ricci, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Love Hewitt all auditioned for the role. Natalie Portman was even given the part, and started filming some scenes with Leonardo Di Caprio before she was forced drop out of the role because, as she claims, "They said it looked like Leonardo was molesting me when we kissed."

The sought-after nature of the Juliet clearly illustrates the timeless quality that Shakespeare's classic inspires in both actors and audiences alike; but although the Bard's ability to produce enduring literature is usually emphasised too many times to bear, 'Romeo and Juliet' owes its enduring nature to more than just its author's lexical prowess. The story of the star-crossed lovers, doomed to heaven from the very beginning is a recurring theatrical phenomenon, a theme utilised to maximum effect wherever possible. Indeed, images of 'Romeo and Juliet' can be found permeating our popular culture to its very core: for instance, the play has inspired music from a diversity of artists, from the likes of Tchaikovsky and Berlioz to Dire Straits and Arctic Monkeys.

Perhaps the most important theatrical descendent of Shakespeare's most famous tragedy, however, is Federico Garcia Lorca's 'Blood Wedding'. First performed in 1933, the Spanish playwright's most powerful play was inspired by a true newspaper account read by the artist: set in Andalusia, a young bride abandons her husband-to-be on their wedding day and elopes with her childhood sweetheart, Leonardo Feliz, who is already married to another. Matters are made worse because the bridegroom's father and brother have been killed by a member of Leonardo's family, and as a result, he follows the runaway couple to even the score.

Allegedly written by Lorca in just an hour, and with none of the characters possessing names except Leonardo, the similarities between 'Blood Wedding' and 'Romeo and Juliet' are more than apparent. However, the circumstances of each playwright could not have been more different. When Shakespeare published his play, he was still one of the favourites of the English court, the anti-Catholic sentiment of the tragedy written in mainly to please Queen Elizabeth I. Lorca, however, acquired a political symbolism in 1930s Spain that led to his untimely demise. Seen as a revolutionary artist, his plays shocked audiences of the time with their portrayal of forbidden, repressed love and freedom of expression, a theme no doubt fostered by his own private homosexuality.

Shortly after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, Franco's fascists kidnapped the playwright and shot him, dumping his body in an unmarked grave. Under Franco's government, his literature was prohibited, but today Lorca is one of the most translated artists in literary history, although some theatre critics debate whether there is a certain artistic quality in his impassioned poeticism that defies translation.

The upcoming production of 'Blood Wedding' at Glasgow's Citizens Theatre uses Ted Hughes' English translation of the play. Rather than attempt a literal transposition of Lorca's work, Hughes employs a startlingly imagistic formula, where short verse and vivid expression replaces Lorca's traditional romance form, giving the work an ultra-modern appearance. In this sense, Lorca is perhaps just as translatable into a modern context as Shakespeare, his portrayal of illicit passion forming just as eternal an image and the tragedy of his lifetime rendering his work all the more frighteningly potent.
Romeo and Juliet plays at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow from Feb 9 to March 4. Blood Wedding plays at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow from Feb 16 to March 3.