Writer: Federico Garcia Lorca (adapted by David Hare)
Director: Scott Hurran
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
Five daughters return from their father’s funeral in rural Spain to be told by their overbearing mother, Bernarda, that they will endure eight years of mourning. A tradition in her family, she states that the girls will not be permitted to leave and nothing will be allowed in. But these plans are thrown into disarray when a local man proposes to the eldest daughter out of economic necessity despite his love for the youngest. Like a Disney evil queen, Bernarda’s excessive control drives the plot, damaging relationships between three generations of Alba women, and resulting in a serious family betrayal.
Written in the 1930s, no men appear in this play at all and it presents a fairly clichéd idea of male and female rôles. The family matriarch, Bernarda, repeatedly tells her daughters that women should be compliant and reserved, allowing their husbands faults to go unremarked. There is a strong emphasis on the right way to behave, showing no emotion even when faced with the death of family members. Bernarda even takes an almost sociopathic pleasure in the beating of a local girl who gave birth to an illegitimate baby. Nesba Crenshaw’s Bernarda is fairly repulsive but lacks any real sense of menace and the performance remained at the same pitch throughout. There’s little subtly to the character and no explanation of her behaviour; it was reminiscent of an Agatha Christie villain who’s so two-dimensionally awful, you know they’ll be killed in the first twenty minutes.
The interaction between the five daughters was quite interesting, exploring the alliances, petty jealousies and feuds that are typical of single-gendered environments. Each is also nicely characterised with Jenny Wilford as the headstrong Adela determined to win her sister’s lover, and Hannah Wood as the physically weaker Martirio, especially good in confrontation over the unseen man. Maggie Daniels as the servant and confident nicely plays her more motherly rôle in the girl’s
This King’s Head production does bring out a lot of the play’s key themes including the fragility of reputation, women’s morality and a Tennessee Williams-like use of stifling heat that alludes to emotional repression. But at the end you wonder what it was all for. Without the context of why these people behave as they do, it’s difficult to really engage with the somewhat melodramatic conclusion. Despite their tragedies, the family will go on as before and nothing has been changed by the events of the play. The production is fine but lacks impact, and you’ll have no trouble obeying Bernarda’s final order not to cry.
Runs until 29th June