Theatre in Wales

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An evening of great Welsh Theatre

The House of Bernada Alba

Theatr Pena , Riverfront Theatre, Newport , February-06-09
The House of Bernada Alba by Theatr Pena The talk around the well in a small dry village in the countryside near Cadiz, the southern most Andalusian province of Spain was rarely about Franco’s emerging fascism but for most of the time it concerned the repressive Catholicism of the wealthy Bernada Alba and the way she ruled over the lives of her five daughters, aged from 20 to 39, keeping them always locked in their rustic mansion out of the clutches of predatory men. When Bernada’s second husband died it was no wonder that so many of the village women appeared at the funeral to be invited back into the house to observe the family at close quarters.

The rest of us assembled in the stables and gazed in through the open door at the sparse, main hall of the house with its grey floor, dark furniture and tall lace hangings covering the wall. This was Holly McCarthy’s elegant minimalist set that with Kay Harding’s lighting provided the perfect setting for this final play of the Spanish earth by Federico García Lorca. Through the cruel tyranny of Bernada he was anticipating the stifling menace of the Franco regime that ordered the playwright’s execution only a few months after the play was completed.

Angustias, the eldest daughter of the house, has become engaged to Pepe el Romano, a vigorous young man who we never see but who plays a critical part in this sad tragedy of domestic life. The plot slowly unwinds like a thread being drawn from one of the large white sheets that the daughters are often at work on until it reaches its inevitable black ending. Gwynne Edwards’ translation brings us the power of Lorca’s writing. Erica Erian’s well judged, precise directing captures all the dryness of the earth that surrounds the tearing suppression of these five young, yearning women, providing us with an evening of great theatre.

An evening of great Welsh Theatre particularly from the performances of this excellent ensemble of many of Wales’ finest female actors. The elderly, long serving, long suffering household servant Poncia is giving an outstanding interpretation by Christine Pritchard; it’s a performance that wraps itself around you and has you laughing and shaking with her own high spirited lasciviousness. Rosamund Shelley’s martinet is all the more menacing as a result of her very natural underscoring of the role. Kathryn Dimery is an actress who has the ability to play old or young, male or female; her Angustias, to whom the fateful Pepe has become engaged as he knows she comes with a fortune, is played with a determined dignity that tells us she might well step into her mother’s shoes some time in the future.

To Adela, with whom the unseen Pepe, unbeknown to Bernada, shares a true passion Catherine Capelin brings the perfect note of innocence and a zest for life that makes the ending of the play all the more terrible and poignant. Hannah O’Leary’s Martirio is her ideal foil, battling with her sister for Pepe’s electric touch. Adrienne O’Sullivan’s Magdalena captivates us as she continues to self effacingly weep and embroider in the background. Such is the strength of this company that the long missed award winning Eiry Thomas gently sketches in the role of Amelia, the least featured of all the daughters.

High in a gantry above the stage the production is introduced by stirring Flamenco guitar playing from the ubiquitous Paula Gardiner, the perfect accompaniment for the extraordinary, commanding, singing voice of Buddug Verona James. Bernada’s aged, mad mother, is given a performance that is both amusing and anguished from Olwen Rees, stumbling off stage clutching her pet lamb and determining to have lots of children, just before the full cost of Bernada’s autocratic ways become appallingly manifest.

Reviewed by: Michael Kelligan

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