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The House of Bernarda Alba by Federico Garcia Lorca

As one of the modern age’s great dramatists – up there with Antonin Chekov and Tennessee Williams – Federico Garcia Lorca’s genius is still visible in Cervantes Theatre’s latest production of The House of Bernarda Alba despite Jorge de Juan’s somewhat inconsistent and occasionally heavy-handed direction.

The House of Bernarda AlbaEnacted in its original Spanish (without surtitles), de Juan has ensured this production of one of Lorca’s three great ‘village dramas’ has plenty of rich visual and aural imagery to stimulate the senses. Set within the claustrophobic confines of one of the relatively grander houses in a provincial Andalusian village immediately following the death of matriarch Bernarda Alba’s (Teresa del Olmo) second husband, father to four of her five daughters, the first order of theatrical business is an unshrouding. However, rather than revealing a body laid out on stage as one might anticipate, the unveiling reveals the workaday sewing machines used for the repetitive and soul-numbing tasks of propriety the daughters must undertake in 1930s rural Spain. With fidelity to the styles of the era, costume designer Isabel del Moral takes a naturalistic but painterly approach, with a consistently monochrome palette until startling flashes of colour rebel like the emotional urges of Senora Alba’s youngest daughter, Adela (Estrella Alonso).

In places, de Juan shows a strong sculptural touch to his vision, with mourners arriving looking other-worldly under opaque black mantillas and with Teresa del Olmo as the matriarch placed centre stage, erect and unmoving; with her walking stick as unbending as her will. But elsewhere he seems to have lost focus in his blocking with his characters bunched up and the tempo not quite matching the story’s emotional journey.

The play’s offstage love rat, Pepe el Romano is promised to the eldest daughter Angustias (Teresa Cendón), who at 39 is running out of options but as the sole heiress to the bequest of her father (Bernarda Alba’s first husband) as well as a small legacy from her recently deceased step-father, provides a mutually beneficial arrangement for the much younger bachelor Pepe and the Alba family’s status. The matter is complicated, however, by her 20-year-old half-sister, Adela falling in love with Pepe – with the determination to consummate their relationship and a seemingly open-eyed view at odds with mores of the epoch: she doesn’t care if he marries Angustias as long as she can continue a clandestine relationship with him. The pivotal event, however, is middle sister Martirio (played forcefully by Elena Sanz) who has also fallen for Pepe but neither acts on lust nor is the object of a union of financial convenience. She suffers as she should – lonely and dutiful; embodying the repression and lack of options Lorca depicts in his story told entirely by women.

It seems as if de Juan wants to do more than tell this story through Lorca’s words and action. He looks to convey the script’s ritualistic sealing of the house’s windows that signifies the beginning of the 8-year period of mourning Bernarda Alba announces by using creaking and somewhat unconvincing sound effects. He seeks to depict the inner turmoil of repressed longing with some almost ecstatic movements that don’t quite work in the otherwise naturalistic tone of the piece. He employs underscore that sounds like a moaning digeridoo (music by Javier “Peke” Rodríguez and Erwin Grafe). Such choices are uneven and not always effective. Rather than focusing on giving the characters enough space to express their emotional selves, he gets them to a very shouty pitch very early on and they stay there. Whilst the claustrophobia of the house is part of the point, by not giving space to key characters’ reactions and realisations as the drama unfolds, the audience isn’t able to sympathise with their conflicting motivations in real time. A combination of naturalistic sounds of discovered lovemaking and the foghorn-like underscore led to titters amongst the audience. The occasional observation of pauses and silence would go a long way in this production.

Despite some directorial missteps, for students and fans of key dramatic works and Spanish literature, The House of Bernarda Alba remains an inspired dramatic classic.

3 Star Review

Review by Mary Beer

The House of Bernarda Alba explores themes of repression, passion and conformity through the depiction of a matriarch’s domination of her five daughters. Described by the author as “a drama of women in the villages of Spain”, the deliberate exclusion of any male character from the action helps build the high level of sexual tension that is present throughout this masterpiece.

Federico García Lorca (1898-1936), poet and dramatist, was one of the greatest Spanish writers of the 20th century. He was killed by nationalist troops at the age of thirty-eight at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War and two months after completing The House of Bernarda Alba.

Bernarda Alba: Teresa del Olmo
Poncia: Maite Jiménez
Adela: Estrella Alonso
Martirio: Elena Sanz
Magdalena: Candela Gómez
Angustias: Teresa Cendón
Amelia: Adela Leiro
María Josefa: Judith Arkwright
La criada: Laura Arnáiz
Prudencia: Wakana Deska

Director Jorge de Juan
Set Designer Angel Haro
Stage Manager Diego Gutiérrez
Costume Designer Isabel del Moral
Music Javier “Peke” Rodríguez y Erwin Grafe

Artistic Director Jorge de Juan
Artistic Director Paula Paz
Production and House Manager Puerto Baker
Graphic Design José Luis Hidalgo

28th February 2022 – 9th April 2022

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  • Mary Beer

    Mary graduated with a cum laude degree in Theatre from Columbia University’s Barnard College in New York City. In addition to directing and stage managing several productions off-Broadway, Mary was awarded the Helen Prince Memorial Prize in Dramatic Composition for her play Subway Fare whilst in New York. Relocating to London, Mary has worked in the creative sector, mostly in television broadcast and production, since 1998. Her creative and strategic abilities in TV promotion, marketing and design have been recognised with over 20 industry awards including several Global Promax Golds. She is a founder member of multiple creative industry and arts organisations and has frequently served as an advisor to the Edinburgh International TV Festival.

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