Theatre Review - 'The House of Bernada Alba'

Posted on: 08 February 2012 by Alexander Hay

Repression, longing and despair drive the drama in Frederico Garcia Lorca’s final and most famous play The House Bernarda Alba (Almeida Theatre), with the action in Bijan Sheibani’s new production relocated from Spain in the thirties, with its increasing political unrest, to contemporary rural Iran

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Following her husband’s funeral, powerful 60-year-old matriarch Bernarda Alba decrees to her five daughters that the household will enter a period of eight years' mourning.

The only one it seems who will escape this fate is the eldest daughter, Angustias, who is already betrothed to the village’s most eligible bachelor.

In the strict confines of the house, where the girls are subjected to the matriarch’s ironhanded regime, jealously and suppressed sexuality rise to the surface. As Bernarda’s oppression of her daughters increases, it is more than the girls’ liberty that is in danger.

This is a vivid but underpowered production and while there are moments of true intensity, it lacks real passion. However Emily Mann’s new version of Lorca’s text is fluent with some genuinely sardonic touches and, although the characters’ Spanish names have been changed to sound more Iranian, the play manages to retain Lorca’s symbolism.

Furthermore, the claustrophobic atmosphere of a household steeped in mourning and bound by rigid social and religious rules, only broken by the mullah’s call to prayer and later by the sound of a gunshot, is strongly conveyed.

Iranian-born screen star Shohreh Aghdashloo, now an American citizen, cuts an impressive figure as Bernarda Alba, with her wonderfully smoky voice and expressive features, an austere figure dressed in black and ruling tyrannically over her unmarried shadow-like offspring.

Pandora Colin meanwhile convinces as the dowdy eldest daughter in her late thirties, as Amanda Hale, Sarah Solemani, Seline Hizli and Hara Yannas also succeed in conveying the damaging effects of sibling rivalry. Completing a fine supporting cast are Jasmina Daniel as Alba’s mother and Jane Bertish and Mia Soteriou, earthy and humane as the family’s domestic help.

In all then a resonant, absorbing production that, although lacking in depth, still manages to fire the imagination.

By Laurence Green

Runs until March 10

Box office: 0207 359 4404


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Alexander Hay

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