I’ve seen several plays by Spanish dramatist Federico García Lorca, and added to my tally when I went to the Courtyard Theatre in Hoxton to see this new version of The House of Bernarda Alba, adapted by David Hare and directed by Phil Willmott. The play is about a formidable matriarch whose determination to control her five daughters eventually ends in tragedy.
Nastazja Somers is superb as Bernarda Alba, with a strong stage presence and entirely convincing air of authority. Hannah Kerin is also excellent as the eldest daughter Angustias, whose inheritance from her father – Bernarda’s first husband – makes her an attractive marriage prospect despite her advanced (for the period) age. Waris Yusuf stands out as the youngest daughter Adela, who defies her mother’s strict rules on mourning, and I also liked Kerli Kyllonen as Maria Josefa, Bernarda’s mother. However, the whole cast – entirely female – does a brilliant job.
The play is staged with a veil between the audience and the performance space. I found this slightly distracting, but also interesting in its resemblance to a mourning veil, a reference perhaps to the restrictive ways in which the daughters of the house are forced to cover and hide themselves. The set is simple and there is some fine choreography work from Francesca Bridge-Cicic, illustrating feelings and the rhythm of the family’s lives.
The House of Bernarda Alba explores ideas such as the role of women, tradition, reputation and honour: throughout, Bernarda Alba seems more concerned with the reputation of her family than the wellbeing of her daughters. This superb production certainly does it justice.