The House of Bernarda Alba (Citizens Theatre)


Dominic Maxwell-Lewis

Rona Munro’s fierce adaptation sees the family of Bernarda Alba updated to the gangland of Glasgow’s East End in contemporary Scotland. After the death of her husband, “Bernie Alba” takes it upon herself to safeguard the family’s dubious fortune and the lives of her five daughters through a marriage of convenience set up between her eldest girl and the son of a business rival. What ensued is nothing short of gripping. The domineering presence of formidable matriarch Bernarda Alba is executed marvellously by Siobhan Redmond, whose every word and gesture seems to command absolute authority throughout the play. The daughters, although headstrong and focused, are played with an acute awareness of the individual weaknesses of each in their unfulfilled desire to love. The juxtaposition of instability and strength throughout the course of the production make very engaging viewing, particularly the performance of youngest daughter Adie, played brilliantly by Vanessa Johnson. The dialogue between the rival siblings escalates into a rancorous battle
to expose the weaknesses of each other in their quest for a perceived vitality and quality of life with distant cavalier, Peter Romano. Despite this, at times an inability to make an even transition from passive to aggressive
makes some scenes seem ill-judged or miscalculated. Visually, however, these scenes are set up so well that there is little room for any confusion about the objectives of the actors.

The look of the play is stunning. Meticulous blocking sets the family up as a tableau on expensive looking cream leather sofas and plush carpets. It gives a sense of entrapment for the daughters, within the walls of a compound, hidden from the drama of the outside world but separated from the relationships they crave. The intense repression of sexuality within the four walls seems to bound about the room as conflicts stir from one side of the stage to the other, constantly peering towards the window of the world below. Outside, images of a violent mob attacking gay men as they leave a nightclub and the distant car of Peter Romano are all relayed to the audience as a parallel commentary, detailing the lack of reality within the cocoon of the household.

John Tiffany’s direction at the climax of the play is particularly noticeable with an incredible cohesion that heightens tensions overwhelmingly. The use of humour during the false shooting of Peter Romano unhinges the audience masterfully before delivering the final shocking blow. It is true ensemble work that keeps the production from losing steam with careful shaping of characters that communicates so well why this play is as relevant as ever today. The task of updating this play for a modern audience and getting the same reaction as eighty years ago is no simple feat. The viewer is not detached from the activity on stage as it mirrors successfully the pertinence of familial conflicts on all levels in our own lives. It is a thoroughly exciting production that absorbs you from start to finish.


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