The House of Bernarda Alba

Nov 10 2016 | By More

★★★☆☆    Direct

Studio at the Festival Theatre: Weds 9 – Sat 12 Nov 2016
Review By Thom Dibdin

Intense and mannered, Leitheatre’s production of Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba at the Festival Theatre Studio strikes a chord with contemporary events.

It is set in a time and place when women were the goods and chattels of men. Which might not be true in our society, but the internet meme of the Trumps, father and son, looking over their wives’ shoulders as they voted on Tuesday, shows that the underlying attitude is still very much alive.

Bernarda and her daughters (L-R): Lindsay Corr, Irene Cuthbert, Ruth Murphy and Eliza Shackleton. Photo Leitheatre

Bernarda and her daughters (L-R): Lindsay Corr, Irene Cuthbert, Ruth Murphy and Eliza Shackleton. Photo Leitheatre

Of course, the play is about more than the sex and sexual freedom which is its subject matter – freedom and aspiration are the real underlying issues here. But that surface story chimes so well with contemporary issues, that they are impossible to ignore.

Leitheatre’s production, directed by Colin Peter, is faithful in terms of time and place to Lorca’s original, set in a small village in rural Spain in 1936. The mourners who arrive at Bernarda Alba’s house after the internment of her second husband are black-veiled and sombre. All is proper and pristine for the eyes of her neighbours.

Irene Cuthbert sets Bernarda Alba up as a solid matriarch, obsessed with appearance. She lords it over her servant, La Poncia (Moira Macdonald), who is her equal in everything apart from the financial status conferred on Bernarda by her dead husband. And she controls her own five adult daughters with an iron will.

The relationship between Bernarda and La Poncia is crucial. The servant is not just the eyes and ears in the village for Bernarda. Her reports of gossip – various stories of infidelity, prostitution, gang rape and the mortal retribution for infanticide of a baby born out of wedlock – provide the audience, too, with details of the society from which Bernarda wishes to elevate her children – and her children’s children.

brutal realism

MacDonald has a curiously mannered delivery which, while it sets the play as metaphor rather than literal truth, is horribly difficult to watch. Indeed, Colin Peter has her be so mannered that it rarely feels that she is doing anything other than quote her lines, rather than deliver them as a real person.

Once you can begin to tune the delivery out, however, there is plenty of depth here. Depth which uses Jo Clifford’s fine translation to find a brutal realism and that, at times, lets this fly.

The daughters have less formality, more humanity to them. Jennie Davidson brings such an air of uptight fear to the eldest, 39 year-old Angustias, that you would picture her soul as Edvard Munch’s The Scream. Daughter of Bernarda’s first husband and sole beneficiary of his will, it is to her that the never-seen Pepe al Remano is betrothed.

She is too old for Pepe’s affections however, and his eyes – and more – are on Nicole Irvine’s Adela, the youngest of the daughters. Irvine finds the youthful energy of the character, the spirit of fight which her elder sisters have long lost.

Eliza Shackleton gives a solid representation of Magdalena, the second daughter whose abilities eclipse her elder sister’s but who is destined to live in her shadow until the elder is married. Shackleton brings echoes of Bernarda to the character, but has a compassion which her mother lacks, notably towards Adela.

the romantic gaze

There is a nice level of complexity to Lindsay Corr as the sickly Martirio, who is unable to either excel in the domestic arts which define her older sisters nor to attract the romantic gaze which her younger sisters enjoy.

Corr articulates the character well, humanising her in a way that is maybe slightly out of sync with Peter’s mannered scheme, but which gives her real life. And which helps give the whole production greater power as it draws to its close.

The intensity of the whole piece is also ramped up by delivering it without interval. The setting of three different days is emphasised by using three different rooms – with Daniel Martinez Lopez coming on stage to provide live flamenco guitar both before the show and during the scene changes. It’s a nice touch, which goes a little way to evoking the heat of Andalusia despite the temperature of the theatre.

A solid, convincing production which makes good use of a 15-strong, all female company. And one which finds contemporary relevance on more than one level.

Running Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Studio at the Festival Theatre, 22 Potterrow, EH8 9BL
Wednesday 9 – Saturday 12 November 2016
Evenings: 7.30pm.
Tickets and details:
Leitheatre website:
Leitheatre facebook page: Leitheatre
Leitheatre twitter: @ @LeitheatreEdin


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