City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

National Theatre of Scotland's The House of Bernarda Alba Review

By Lindsay Corr - Posted on 04 November 2009

The House of Bernada Alba 2
Show Details
King's Theatre
National Theatre of Scotland
John Tiffany (Director), Rona Munro (Writer), Laura Hopkins (Designer)
Siobhan Redmond (Bernie), Louise Ludgate (Marty), Jo Freer (Maggie), Vanessa Johnson (Adie), Myra McFadyen (Penny), Una McLean (Mary), Jule Wilson Nimmo), Carmen Pieracinni (Melly), Anne Lacey (Careworker), Morag Stark (1st Jounralist), Hether Nimmo (2nd Journalist), Mary McCusker (Prudence/Churchgoer)
Running time: 

The potential pitfalls of taking on an iconic writer’s work makes most shy away from the challenge, but Rona Munro (The Last Witch) has confronted Federico Garcia Lorca's classic, updating it from scorching Spain’s Andalusia to the soggy wetness of Glasgow’s East End.Lorca’s great tragedy, first performed in 1945 but written in 1936, is the story of matriarchal Bernarda Alba struggling to look after her senile mother and five daughters after the death of her husband.

Clasping an iron grip over the girls she announces an eight year mourning period confined to the house, causing tension that escalates when a suitor is expected to marry the eldest daughter for financial convenience.

Munro translates the tale to Glasgow ganglands. The women are confined to their home after returning from the funeral in their designer blacks to avoid the eager paparazzi, queuing up to find out who shot Bernie's crime boss husband.

Meanwhile, underneath the family's chic penthouse apartment, their El Paso nightclub is gearing up for the wedding reception of a gay couple.

Confined to the house with only Gossip Girl to watch, the girls pent up claustrophobic frustration and sexual aggravations begin to push the limits of family loyalty when pitted against their repressed instincts in a highly tense situation, slowly unraveling.

Although Munro’s relocation works, it cannot match the ominous intensity of the original; the sharp stretch in style making it seem like a comic pastiche that fails to hit the juggernaut when it comes to the underlying tragedy reflected in Munro’s biting dialogue.

John Tiffany directs the piece indecisively with lots of humour and while it is refreshing to see Lorca portrayed in this way, it jars with the culminating tragedy of the end. A perfect example of this is Una McLean's show stealing turn as Bernie's doddery, lonely old mother which is heartbreakingly moving, yet received many giggles as it was set amidst comically staged interchanges, deflating the intensity of McLean’s performance in favour of laughing at the loopy old lady.

Despite the wobbliness of approach, Tiffany has created an underlying intensity in the ensemble female cast with the communal scenes offering intrigue to the delicate skirmish for power.

Yet the main problem is with the comfort of the family’s plush living conditions. With fluffy beige carpets and melt-into leather sofas, it takes away the desperation of the piece and makes the women seem like spoiled wannabe WAGS who are just having a grump which fails to emote a sympathetic viewing, with Laura Hopkins's white box set successfully portraying the enclosed cabin fever but counteracting the energy of the actors onstage with its confinement.

The overall result is modern family drama packaged in a spirited but fitful play that fails to realise the brutal inevitability of its bitterly tragic and bloody conclusion.

Tue 3 – Sat 7 November 7.30pm
Wed & Sat 2.30pm

© Lindsay Corr, November 2009

Read Irene Brown's review of The House of Bernarda Alba