Theatre Review: The House of Bernarda Alba, 3 November, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

4 Nov

The House of Bernarda Alba


Blood, high-heels and heartache form the basis of Rona Munro’s new adaptation of Federico Garcia Lorca’s 1945 play, sun-baked rural Spain swapped for rain-sodden East End Glasgow as a matriarchal family comes to terms with the death of the man in their lives.

Returning home from the funeral of her gangster husband Tony, Bernie (Siobhan Redmond) and her five daughters are given little time to grieve as reporters surround their home and a film crew are given exclusive coverage of the family as they appeal to be left alone.

Aware that she’s unlikely to ever be free from her daughters, all of whom still live with her, there is still some hope that the relationship between Agnes (Julie Wilson Nimmo) and rival family offspring Peter Romanov could save them from financial difficulty if it all goes smoothly.

When youngest daughter Adie (Vanessa Johnson) shares her feelings for Romanov with older sister Marty (Louise Ludgate), who also carries a torch for the man, it looks like Bernie’s stranglehold on her brood might, for once, not be strong enough to stop things from taking a turn for the worse.

By taking the bare bones of Lorca’s play and setting it in present-day Glasgow, Munro has very much put her stamp on the piece, her attempt to make it relevant to a modern audience successful in that its references never appear forced.

An early appearance from Myra McFadyen as Bernie’s lifelong friend Penny promises much, her bawdiness pitched at just the right level, larger than life rather than OTT.

With such a large cast of siblings to establish, the difficulty here is keeping track of who’s who and each one’s motivation, the personalities of Jo Freer’s Maggie and Carmen Pieraccini’s Melly suffering the most.

The double act of Adie and Marty is perhaps the strongest, though there’s not enough done to explain quite what is so impressive about Romanov to make him the object of so many women’s desires. Adie is prone to spout less than believable dialogue, though it’s hard to tell if this is an accurate translation of the original, an attempt to show her naïveté, or both.

At the heart of it all is Siobhan Redmond as the determined Bernadette Alba, her morals and attitudes clearly shaped by her years as the wife of a violent and thuggish man. Claiming to want rid of her daughters one moment, only to calmly ensure they don’t leave her sight the next, Bernie is as bankrupt as her finances are soon to become.

Unfortunately Bernie isn’t in enough scenes, never quite the force of nature she’s built up to be. Redmond does well with the part but it’s the humour that makes more of an impression, her scenes with McFadyen always sparkling.

In the end, though the play is always entertaining, the production never has enough depth to ensure it’s taken as seriously as it perhaps wants to be.

The House of Bernarda Alba runs until 7 November, visit the King’s Theatre website for full details.


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