The Main Event: The House Of Bernarda Alba

DIRECTOR John Tiffany strides out of the disabled loo, backstage at the Citizens' Theatre, and proudly points to the toilet seat he has left standing upright. Just because he's working with a 12-strong female cast doesn't mean he's going to change the habit of a lifetime. They can put the seat down themselves.

That's fighting talk where I come from, and you can't imagine his feisty female company – among them such forceful figures as Siobhan Redmond, Myra McFadyen, Carmen Pieraccini and Una McLean – putting up with it for long. Not that there's been any animosity in the National Theatre of Scotland's rehearsals for The House Of Bernarda Alba, the great Lorca tragedy they're relocating from sun-scorched Andalusia to rain-drenched Glasgow.

Even though Tiffany will be forever associated with Black Watch, Gregory Burke's high-testosterone drama with its ten-strong male cast, he says the job of directing an all-female company is pretty much the same. "The difference is that this lot bring me Portuguese tarts and cakes," he says with glee. "The Black Watch cast brought me cans of lager – and I much prefer the Portuguese tarts. They really spoil me, all 12 of them.

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"The creative energy is very similar. There's a real strength and pride from a same-sex ensemble. The Black Watch cast were working as a squad, because that was the energy of the show, and this lot… I think women are really good at knowing how to deal with each other. They just seem to be more aware."

Written in 1936, although not staged until 1945, Lorca's final play tells the tragic story of Bernarda Alba struggling to look after her five daughters and senile mother after the death of her husband. In the hands of translator Rona Munro, whose The Last Witch has just enjoyed a successful run at the Edinburgh International Festival, it has become the tale of a Glasgow matriarch with gangland connections.

Thanks to the all-black outfits, they've been dubbing it "The House Of Bernarda Prada", even if the new-money suits and gold chains have the glitz of something less restrained.

"Neither they nor we can afford the real Prada," says Tiffany, who had Siobhan Redmond in mind for the lead role from the very start. "It's the Shettleston Prada, but Prada is slightly too sophisticated – Prada Sport is right for them, because it's got the label on it. This world is more Versace, it's more ostentatious."

The switch in location from oppressive Catholic Spain to oppressive Catholic Glasgow is Tiffany's way of making the play speak to modern audiences. Where frisky stallions form the backdrop to Lorca's original, randy rottweilers growl offstage in Munro's version.

"I've always loved the play, but I've always had a problem with actors speaking RP and pretending to have a relationship with hot weather that makes them horny," says Tiffany. "I thought I'd love to set it in Glasgow because it's such a Catholic city and there's still an identity to it, like Andalusia which is out of the centre. They're a very dramatic family and Glaswegians are very good at self-dramatising. It's the story of five sisters who fancy the same boy and I thought if I can make it connect with 14 and 15-year-old girls, it won't feel like a 'European classic'."

Tiffany is the director who cast Alan Cumming in a kilt in The Bacchae and had him make his first entrance from above, baring his buttocks as he dropped to the stage. Lorca's play might not lend itself to quite such an overt form of directorial intervention, but Tiffany is determined to keep it as theatrical as possible: "I'm not interested in putting naturalism on stage – I want passion."

He cut his teeth directing new plays at Edinburgh's Traverse, among them Liz Lochhead's Perfect Days starring Redmond as Babs – "a kitten compared with Bernarda" – and the early plays of Gregory Burke. It was an apprenticeship that taught him the value of paying attention to detail, focusing closely on the text, and gave him the confidence to make the kind of bold theatrical gestures that characterised the multi-award-winning Black Watch.

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"I have to change according to the nature of the project, as opposed to the project having to change for me," he says. "Just because Black Watch had all that in it doesn't mean I don't get as much pleasure from working with actors on rhythm, text and precision.

"My need is about communicating the whole, and when the whole is there in the text and in what the actors are doing, then it doesn't need frou-frou, as I call it. But, of course, it's crept in! It isn't about me showing off, it's just about how to make it as entertaining as possible."v

The House Of Bernarda Alba is at the Citizens' Theatre, Glasgow, Tuesday to 3 October, then tours