Theatre review: The House Of Bernarda Alba


IT'S a high-risk business to attempt a radical update and relocation of a classic play such as Federico Garcia Lorca's great 1930s drama The House Of Bernarda Alba. Set in a village in Spain in a time of fierce sexual and political repression, when the shadow of Franco's fascist rule loomed on the horizon, the play famously uses the household of its savagely authoritarian heroine, and the plight of her five unmarried daughters, as a metaphor for the state of a country in which love, joy and the force of life were suppressed, in an effort to sustain a culture of absolute political and social control.

Now, though, writer Rona Munro and National Theatre of Scotland associate director John Tiffany have boldly relocated the action to a penthouse above a nightclub in a tough area of Glasgow, where Bernie Alba, recently bereaved widow of a gangster, holds her five girls in thrall to a cult of savage and cynical pessimism about human nature, and about the transforming power of human creativity and love.

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Munro's version of the play places a sharp stretch on the original drama; some in the audience are clearly inclined to take this mouthy Glasgow Lorca as a kind of pastiche. And Siobhan Redmond, as Bernie, has to struggle with the loss of the huge symbolic weight carried by the original Bernarda Alba. It's hard to see a hard-faced gangster's wife with a gift for comic timing as a key representative of our whole culture.

But there's an intensity in the ensemble playing of Tiffany's tremendous all-female cast – and in Una McLean's heartbreaking, lonely performance as Bernie's mad, love-starved old mother – that carries this high-risk production through to a successful conclusion.