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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me @markffisher and @writeabouttheat I am an Edinburgh-based freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian, Scotland on Sunday and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success, published in February 2012 and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers published in July 2015. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide. See my website for more information and comprehensive Scottish theatre links.
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Monday, September 21, 2009

The House of Bernarda Alba, NTS review

Published in The Guardian

The House of Bernarda Alba

Citizens, Glasgow
3 out of 5

With not an Andalusian plain in sight, this House of Bernarda Alba is not exactly as Federico GarcĂ­a Lorca imagined it in 1936: it's less about pre-Franco oppression than post-credit-crunch neurosis. The closest we get to Spain is a Royal Doulton figurine of a flamenco dancer. And even that smashes on the plushly carpeted floor of Bernadette Alba's all-beige Glasgow living room as soon as the play begins.

Beneath the family's penthouse apartment, meanwhile, the El Paso nightclub is gearing up for a same-sex wedding reception. And outside, camera crews are queuing up to find out who shot Bernie's husband, a crime boss and father to the five sisters who are just back from the funeral in their designer mourning gear.

However, Rona Munro's bold translation for the National Theatre of Scotland is not the gimmick it may sound. This is a portrait of an all-female household cocooned from the outside world by a domineering mother (a sharp-tongued Siobhan Redmond) and fear of the paparazzi. With only one man – the son of a local mobster – to share between them, the daughters let claustrophobia and sexual frustration get the better of them. By staying loyal to the family, they repress their instincts until something has to give.

But although the relocation does not jar, it cannot match the brooding intensity of the original. Having swapped Spanish austerity for consumerist comfort, these women are more grumpy than desperate. When things get tough, they can always lie back on the sofa and escape into an episode of Gossip Girl. That might make us smile, but it doesn't elicit our sympathy. And, refreshing though it is to see Lorca played with humour, John Tiffany's production strikes an uncertain note. It looks like a raucous all-girls-together comedy – especially with Munro's waspish language – but it pulls us in the opposite direction, towards tragedy.

The approach works well in the communal scenes, as the strong cast engage in a delicate tussle for power. It is less successful in quieter moments, however, when the actors' energy is muted by Laura Hopkins's enclosing white box of a set. The result is a 21st-century family drama with a conclusion that is bitter and bloody, but lacks any sense of cruel inevitability.

© Mark Fisher 2009

1 comment:

Kit Counterfly said...

I felt the final two thirds of the play rather limped towards the conclusion, and as you say, it lacked any kind of clear trajectory. Scene after scene of unresolved conflict simply failed to create any atomsphere of tension, and there was an uneasy balance of comedy ('buffet') and sudden flashes of melodrama. I enjoyed it more than my companions (and, apparently, the people who left before the 2nd half), but overall it kind of felt like a missed opportunity.

That said, it still wasn't as bad as Don Juan. Oh man. Still not over that.