Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

Review: THE HOUSE OF BERNARDA ALBA, Cervantes Theatre

Review: THE HOUSE OF BERNARDA ALBA, Cervantes Theatre

Review: THE HOUSE OF BERNARDA ALBA, Cervantes Theatre This is a great, complex, problematic, Shakespearean, mythic, disturbing, provocative play. Federico Garcia Lorca may have set it in an unnamed provincial village in rural Spain and died just two months after its completion (at the hands of Spanish Nationalist militia - look out for them again over the next few years) but he stared into some very dark places in the human soul and brought forth what he saw for our eternal edification and education. Such is the immortality of great artists.

Bernarda runs her house with a rod of iron (literally wood, but wielded with terrifying implacability) corralling her five daughters in the shuttered gloom and still heat to mourn her second husband's death - for eight years. Of course, the ostensible cause is immaterial (her eldest daughter, Angustias, is unmarried at 39) - Bernarda's motivation is to control their humanity through denial of sensual pleasure and the natural warmth of social contact. It is, needless to say, one of the many ways that authority figures (usually, but not exclusively, male) have exercised power over women for millennia - "your body, your spirit, your soul is mine to dispose of as I wish".

But the sisters ache for release, an abstraction made concrete in the person of Pepe el Romana, the unseen man who stands for all the things they are denied. He is to be married to spinsterish Angustias - who has inherited almost all her father's (Bernarda's first husband) wealth and is, consequently, a prized match as a source of money if not children - but he is also conducting a torrid affair with the headstrong youngest daughter, Adela. Unsurprisingly, things do not go well.

Mary Conlon's Bernarda is not as physically brutal as some I have seen, but her ferocious will appears the stronger for it. She handles her cane the way I imagine Mrs Thatcher would deploy her famous handbag: as a mark of difference and a symbol of her remarkable status. Her famous closing exclamations (no spoilers) are delivered with heartless solipsism, the narcissism so deeply embedded as to drown out the impact of any trauma. It's almost painful to witness - especially as we have caught a glimpse (albeit briefly and at the back of the stage, almost hidden) of the price her tyranny has exacted even on her.

The supporting cast are uniformly excellent (the play is delivered by the company in Spanish and English, so pick your night for your language and individual actors). Joanne Kate Rodgers is, to be frank, much too beautiful to match Angustias' description, but her coldness towards her half-sisters is delivered with an understated icy detachment. Moir Leslie brings a comic cheerfulness to her role as the wise maid, Poncia, but her speaking truth to power proves pointless, such is the carapace of Bernarda's egoism.

Beth Smith invests her misshapen Martirio with a deep humanity that makes her appalling behaviour understandable if not excusable, a very fine piece of acting to draw this out in a limited but crucial role. Maite Jauregui is utterly compelling as Adela, all feline temptation and simmering sexuality, a Modigliani nude given clothes and life, a performance that teeters on the edge of melodrama (as it must) but never oversteps so critical a line. With no exposition worthy of the name, you know exactly why Pepe el Romano (unseen, but unnecessary) risks what he risks - and why she does too.

The production is a triumph for director Jorge de Juan who has conjured such wonders from his cast and who explores the full complexity of Lorca's masterpiece at a dizzying pace. It's a work that will infuriate some as much as it entrances others; a play saturated with women's hopes and fears, but written by a man; a thicket of contradictions but also laser beam to dissect the soul. That the cast and creatives prove worthy of the writing is as high a compliment as I can muster.

The House of Bernarda Alba continues at the Cervantes Theatre until 9 December.

Photo Elena Molina.



The National Lotterys Big Night Of Musicals Returns to Manchester Next Month Photo
After the huge success of its first musicals extravaganza last year, on Monday 27th February The National Lottery is once again bringing together the biggest shows from the world of theatre for a spectacular celebration of musicals. 

Photos: Inside Rehearsal For THE WALWORTH FARCE at The New Southwark Playhouse Elephant Photo
Get a first look inside rehearsal for The Walworth Farce, opening at the new Southwark Playhouse Elephant. Check out the photos here!

Review: HAVE I NONE, Golden Goose Theatre Photo
Dystopian play, set 54 years in the future, raises questions about the direction of consumerism today

Review: FAMOUS PUPPET DEATH SCENES, Barbican Theatre Photo
Slashed, smashed, squished, shot, stabbed and splatted: these are only some of the ways that Canadian company The Old Trout Puppet Workshop kill off their creations in the pitch-black Famous Puppet Death Scenes, making its London premiere at The Barbican as part of this year's London International Mime Festival.


From This Author - Gary Naylor

Gary Naylor is chief London reviewer for BroadwayWorld (https://www.broadwayworld.com/author/Gary-Naylor) and feels privileged to... (read more about this author)


Review: HAVE I NONE, Golden Goose TheatreReview: HAVE I NONE, Golden Goose Theatre
January 25, 2023

Dystopian play, set 54 years in the future, raises questions about the direction of consumerism today

Review: THE ELEPHANT SONG, Park TheatreReview: THE ELEPHANT SONG, Park Theatre
January 24, 2023

Nicolas Billon's Canadian play has dated somewhat, but still engages its audience on its UK premiere

Review: FAGIN'S LAST HOUR, White Bear TheatreReview: FAGIN'S LAST HOUR, White Bear Theatre
January 19, 2023

James Hyland is Dicken's Fagin, decrepit and distraught, in his cell on the way to the gallows

Review: LEAST LIKE THE OTHER, SEARCHING FOR ROSEMARY KENNEDY, Royal Opera House, Linbury TheatreReview: LEAST LIKE THE OTHER, SEARCHING FOR ROSEMARY KENNEDY, Royal Opera House, Linbury Theatre
January 18, 2023

An extraordinary, powerful, moving multimedia work that gives voice to Rosemary Kennedy, denied it for over 60 years.

2022 Year in Review: Gary Naylor's Best of 20222022 Year in Review: Gary Naylor's Best of 2022
December 19, 2022

Some highlights of the last year and some hopes for an uncertain future