Theatre in Wales

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Challenging and rewarding theatre

The House of Bernada Alba

Theatr Pena , Riverfront Theatre, Newport , February-06-09
The House of Bernada Alba by Theatr Pena In days like these some might be more familiar with the talents of Alexander Burk of X-factor notoriety rather than Federico Garcia Lorca, Spain's leading poet and dramatist of the first half of the 20th Century. As a radical and a homosexual Lorca was murdered by Spain's conservative fascists at the outset of the Spanish civil war. These events, and the repressive ideologies that set them in motion may seem an age away- but liberty is a slender and precious thing. The deranged social forces that resulted in Lorca's tragic and premature execution for the mix of his politics and sexuality are still in living memory for many, only a generation distant. Indeed, it wasn't until 1975 after the death of Spanish totalitarian Franco (just three years before I was born) that Lorca's full and remarkable repertoire could be discussed and performed publicly in his native Spain. This is not simply an historical play therefore, but a contemporary reminder of the sanctity of civil liberties and the humanistic necessity of modernist politic.

With this very much in mind it was great to see The House of Bernarda Alba, replete with a stirring Spanish folk soundtrack performed en vivo, at Newport's Riverfront Theatre. This all female production is an exploration of power, repression, and sexuality.

From the outset the conflicts between self and society are apparent. As Holly Mcarthy's prim and bleakly symmetrical set jars subtly with the passions running underneath the music of Paula Gardiner and Buddug Verona James- all tragedy, heatstroke, and menace.

The realism of the dialogue is peppered with lyricism and wit, as this superbly crafted script is given legs by the strong Welsh cast. Rosamund Shelley is coolly threatening with a hot poker vertebrae as Bernarda. Christina Pritchard brings extra significance to the character of Poncia, with an excellent performance, wry and full of presence. Betsan Llywd is similarly solid as the domestic and she makes a memorable impact through this slightly smaller part. The tensions and frustrations in Hannah O Leary's Martirio are played with vivid fascination. Catherine Capelin simmers with rebellion, and Kathryn Dimery hovers between pride and insecurity. All actresses meet high standards and expectations. As the plot progresses the inter-relations between the characters and the spectral male presence of Pepe remind of how we can all be made complicit and dependent in cultures of deference- the prevailing inequalities between class and gender. One could also consider Lorcas's own sexuality, and the denial of his longings expressed in metaphorical terms.

This is challenging and rewarding theatre- played with professionalism, commitment, and quality. The extended run at the Riverfront is well deserved.

Reviewed by: Chris Paul

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