Writer: Frederico Garcia Lorca
Translator/Adaptor: Jo Clifford
Director: Jenny Sealey
Reviewer: Katherine Kirwin
Lorca’s final play is brought to the Royal Exchange in a co-production with the disabled-led company Graeae in a stirring all-female production spearheaded by Kathryn Hunter.
Hunter commanders the circular stage as the matriarch Bernarda who demands obedience from her household as she imposes an eight-year period of mourning in which the women will be blocked away from the gossips’ tongue and the men who wish to find them. Hunter crackles as Bernarda; at times terrifying and domineering, then blackly funny and sharp. The audience feel the iron will of a woman who has repressed her own desires, both loves and hates the gossiping tongues, and is now inflicting the same expectations and demands upon her daughters.
The direction and adaptation of Lorca’s text has to be admired as Jenny Sealey and Jo Clifford have integrated the BSL, captions and audio description into the production, and the poetry of Lorca so that it highlights the themes of the play. The relationships are signified and heightened through communication or lack thereof; which sister signs for which sister, who turns their back or closes their eyes to prevent communication, when Bernarda does sign or refuses to sign for her two deaf daughters. The downside of this accessibility is that the captions positioned around the playing space unavoidably highlighted any slip in the text, any missed cue or mistake, and furthermore, were more distracting the higher up within the theatre you were sat.
The performances of the daughters are individual and engaging; particularly the vibrancy of Adela played by Hermon Berhane who conveys so much hope, sexuality and frustration without words, and the strong professional debut of Kellan Frankland as Martirio. There is surprising amount of laughter and humour found within this dark play. It is found in the realistic moments between sisters, the conflict between maids and masters, and the punchline of Bernarda’s power over them all. It feels as if this production is ridiculing the position of these women, the tyranny of a patriarchal society which the woman are propagating, inviting the audience to laugh at them in order to destroy its power.
This production has some flaws, a few press night slip-ups, and doesn’t always carry the heat and tension it promises. However, it is an engaging production, truly accessible to all and not only remaining faithful to its source material, but accentuating its themes brilliantly.
Runs until 25 February 2017 | Image: Jonathan Keenan