We either don’t need to know, or can imagine for ourselves, why the bride at the heart of the story agrees to marry her good and kindly fiancé Edward, and then runs off with her already-married first love, Leonardo, at the height of the wedding feast. And likewise, we don’t need to know, or can imagine, why peace-loving Edward – desperate to escape from his family’s violent gangsterism – then pursues Leonardo with all the fury of an ancient blood-feud, making the play’s tragic conclusion inevitable.
If the play resists ordinary psychological analysis, though, the stark and ancient outlines of the story provide a space – almost a playground – in which creative theatre-makers can revel; and that’s exactly what happens in this rich and fascinating new Dundee Rep production by the great Jenny Sealey of Graeae Theatre Company, which co-produces the show along with Derby Playhouse. Graeae is famous for its globally acclaimed work with disabled performers; and David Ireland’s brave and thrilling adaptation of the text, set in a roughly contemporary UK full of Scottish, Irish and estuary voices, noises up a series of issues around inclusion, exclusion and prejudice.
So the bride, Olivia, played with terrific presence and humour by Amy Conachan, has no legs, although she reassures her future mother-in-law that everything else is in working order; her fiancé Edward is black, although, as her auntie Shirley observes, not very black. Leonardo, whom she adores with a fatal passion, is much blacker; although her father is clear that that’s not why he doesn’t like him. And Edward’s mother, Agnes, is profoundly deaf; although that doesn’t stop her from being prejudiced against people with no legs.
The result – on Lisa Sangster’s brilliantly-lit function-suite set – is a riot of dark observational comedy shading fiercely into tragedy, featuring a rogue’s gallery of memorable performances from an ensemble that includes Ann Louise Ross as Aunt Shirley, and Gerard McDermott as Olivia’s stuffed-shirt father. At the play’s core, though, are the twin performances of Ricci McLeod as Edward, a good man appalled by the violence of his fate; and EJ Raymond as his mother, an ancient and yet ominously modern figure of tribal hatred and revenge, biding her time, but finally telling the last of her menfolk exactly where to plunge the knife, and how hard.
Dundee Rep until 14 March, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh 8-11 April, and on tour to Greenock, Derby, Ipswich and Liverpool.