Review: The House of Bernarda Alba
The House of Bernarda Alba is about a formidable matriarch figure and her five daughters. It was originally written by Federico García Lorca in 1936 in the backdrop of the incoming Spanish Civil War, which ultimately led to his assassination two months later. The National Theatre and playwright Alice Birch have adapted Lorca’s original text for this production. Although the original text in itself feels incredibly forward-thinking for the time, placing a powerful woman at the centre of the plot. Lorca himself an openly gay man was living ahead of his time.
I think the first thing I have to say about this production is just how incredible the set is. Merle Hensel, the set and costume designer, is certainly the star of this production. When the Safety Curtain splits in half vertically at the beginning of the performance there is a dramatic reveal of a house. Spanning three floors, the house has a clerical hospital or prison feel to it. This means that we can see every aspect of the whole house, and nobody can hide. The feeling the daughters certainly have at being confined for eight years in their period of grief.
For the eight actors whose characters live within the house, there is no hiding from the audience. There is not a single moment where they get a rest or a break, and not one of them breaks character the entire time. Harriet Walter takes on the role of Bernarda Alba, her looming presence throughout the house is always felt and ultimately her role as a mother alongside how she believes society should see her rules her character. Special mention must also go to Isis Hainsworth who plays the youngest daughter, Adela. Hainsworth mirrors the childish innocence with the strong-willed selfish nature of her character which had you liking her one moment and hating her another.
The benefit of the staging allowed for the nuisances of the actors’ performances, there was always something to watch, and every audience member’s experience will be slightly different depending on where their eyes drifted around the house. There were so many clever blink and you’ll miss it moments. At the same time, there were often moments you didn’t want to watch, which made you feel uncomfortable and interrupting some of these characters’ most private moments, from getting changed, to masturbating, to committing suicide. The direction, by Rebecca Frecknall, really took full advantage of the phenomenal set available to her.
- Show title: The House of Bernarda Alba
- Venue: Lyttelton Theatre, National Theatre
- Review date: Wednesday 29th November