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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The House Of Bernarda Alba
Royal Court Theatre     Spring 2022

We never hear the voice of a man in Lorca’s play The House of Bernarda Alba, but they dominate the action in the director Rebecca Frecknall’s darkly expressionist production of a version by Alice Birch.

Bernarda announces to the women of her home that they must mourn for eight years the death of her second husband, a man who might have sexually abused a daughter and a woman servant.

The show opens with the slow balletic movements across the stage and over a gate of Pepe El Romano (James McHugh) a man a number of the Alba daughters want to marry.

He is engaged to marry Angustias (Rosalind Eleazar) the oldest of the sisters and the one who inherited a large sum from Bernarda’s first husband. However, that doesn’t stop his romantic meetings with the youngest daughter Adela (Isis Hainsworth), who is determined to break free of the prison-like conditions.

While everyone else dresses in black, she dons a green dress her mother forbids her to wear outside the home. Her sister Martirio (Lizzie Annis) is less rebellious but is eaten up with jealousy of Pepe’s interest in the others.

The women are first shown as twelve silhouettes on the darkened stage, mostly congregating in the lower middle room of a three-story house of eleven rooms, fragments of their conversations merging, creating a mood rather than any meaning.

Those eleven rooms allow our attention to wander across the building, choosing what we see even as the dramatic action takes place in the main room downstairs.

Above that room women are restless, changing clothes. One rubs a hand between her legs, another tries to see the outside world from her window and Bernarda’s mother María Josefa (Eileen Nicholas), locked in her bedroom against her will, dons a wedding dress because she has decided to get married. She will later join the others cradling a dead lamb.

The horror of the repressive world beyond the prison-like home occasionally makes itself known. In one terrifying scene, a mob pursues in slow motion to perhaps kill a woman who gave birth to an illegitimate child she killed. She is caught and dragged into their beating fists.

In the kitchen, the servant Poncia (Thusitha Jayasundera) and the maid (Bryony Hanna) gossip, and reflect wisely on the unhealthy prison-like conditions of the daughters.

Harriet Walter gives a commanding performance as the domineering and ever-watchful Bernarda, who never relaxes, and is always determined to keep the lid on the pressure cooker of restless emotions in her home.

This is a distinctive engaging production that especially conveys its meaning through an expressionist style even when this can at times distance the language, the conversations and the troubling words of the prisoners of an oppressive Spanish society that in 1936 murdered its writer Federico García Lorca.

Keith McKenna

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Review of  House Of Bernards Alba - National Theatre 2023

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