"Disappointing Adaptation of A Classic"
by Paul Ackroyd for remotegoat on 21/06/17

The House of Bernarda Alba was a Lorca's last play completed in June 1936, but not performed until 1945, after the playwright's death. The play is a tight and repressive family drama of a household dominated by the recently bereaved Bernarda Alba , who impresses her tyrannical will upon her five daughters. The eldest daughter is engaged to be married to a man from the village and it is around the jealousy and sexual envy between the daughters for this man, who never appears in the play, that much of the action of the play is focussed.

The Tower Theatre Company's production currently playing at the Bridewell Theatre uses a new version by Marta Dunphy-Morie which transposes the action from the heat baked Spanish countryside to a cold and damp rural England in the early 1950s. The transposition suited the themes of isolation, the oppression of women, and class prejudice as well as the original. The set was uniformly black with a minimum of obvious scenery and wooden tables and chairs to depict a bleak interior which matched the mood of the play.

Unfortunately however the play failed to convince. In part this may have been due to the text , which seemed to allow insufficient time for the relationship between the family members to be properly developed before they started intriguing against each other but it was also due to some poor casting choices. In the title role Toni Madja did her best to deliver Bernarda's censorious lines in a firm manner but she was far too young for the part, seemingly younger than most of her daughters, and failed to convey that intense self-righteous conviction of a really hardened elderly matriarch. The five actresses playing the daughters had obviously put a considerable amount of effort into developing contrasting characters but the delivery of the lines lacked pace and it was impossible to believe this was a family grouping who knew each other well and were habitually at each other's throats. The performance of the night must go to Niki Mylonas as Josephine the batty grandmother; unfortunately she only appeared for a couple of short scenes which were only tangentially linked to the main narrative.

The presentation would have been helped with a rather different stage setting. At the back of the acting area was a flight of stairs upto to a small landing leading to both the outside of the house and the bedrooms. This made for a very congested entrance area when a number of characters were coming on or off at one time and the director ( Jaqui Marchant-Adams) made the odd choice to occasionally leave one of the characters on the landing while engaging in dialogue to the backs of the other characters which who were sitting at the table in front of her. An arrangement which was both incredible as well as awkward. The acting area at the Bridewell Theatre provided plenty of space which better used would have afforded the opportunity for the characters to overhear each other's conversations and add to the sense of intrigue and suspicion.

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