A Shiny Life For Me!

a personal review blog by Bianca

The House of Bernarda Alba

The House of Bernarda Alba
18 December 2023
National Theatre
3.5 out of 5.0 stars

This one is not light entertainment.

The House of Bernarda Alba is a very dark drama focussing on the consequences of oppressing women. Garcia Lorca’s last play, completed in 1936, just weeks before his murder, is set in a small village in Andalusia, where the family matriarch struggles to keep a tight grip on her five daughters. Concerned mostly with “what will the neighbours think”, Bernarda closely controls her daughters, who are aged between 20 and 39, to keep their honour intact and avoid any kind of scandal, prohibiting any and all relationships to men without a marriage proposal. When her second husband dies, she imposes an eight year mourning period, in accordance with family tradition, which her children react to with protestations and desperation. But when Pepe, a suitor to the oldest daughter, causes turmoil within the family unit as the sisters fight over who is a better match, or more deserving, of Pepe’s attention.

While the original play causes further tension and a strong focus on the women’s experiences through never showing Pepe, or any other man, on the stage, this production took a different direction and made Pepe an actual character. One without lines and mostly utilising physical movement on the sidelines to be more of a looming presence, but still a male presence on the stage that does change the balance and impact of the play.

The drama is presented incredibly well, exploring what oppression, repression, and lack of prospects does to young women, what they can become capable of. Presented on a stage that boasts a three-story building with each bedroom exposed to the audience, everything covered in the same muted pastel green, and with several situations of simultaneous conversations weaving into each other perfectly, it’s a delight to watch despite the dark and dramatic content. It was especially delightful to once again see Isis Hainsworth on stage, she’s an absolute force in every show I’ve seen her in!

However, everything was a bit muted, to me, through the inclusion of Pepe on stage, giving physicality to a presence that was meant to loom unseen. It breaks the fascination of seeing an all-female cast struggle through a variety of problems some women still face today, toning down the dramatic impact and focusing on a character that wasn’t meant to be part of the play.

It’s an interesting decision for the production, but one that I believe does not fully pay off. Still, it’s a good production of the story that still packs a punch, just one that feels toned down and less forceful than it could have been.

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