Review Roundup: National Theatre's THE HOUSE OF BERNARDA ALBA

The cast features Harriet Walter, Isis Hainsworth, Rosalind Eleazar, Thusitha Jayasundera and more.

By: Nov. 29, 2023
Review Roundup: National Theatre's THE HOUSE OF BERNARDA ALBA
Enter Your Email to Unlock This Article

Plus, get the best of BroadwayWorld delivered to your inbox, and unlimited access to our editorial content across the globe.

Existing user? Just click login.

The National Theatre is presenting The House of Bernarda Alba, in a co-production with Playful Productions. 

Following Olivier Award-winning revivals of Cabaret and A Streetcar Named Desire, Rebecca Frecknall makes her directorial debut at The National Theatre with Alice Birch’s (Normal People) radical version of Federico García Lorca’s modern masterpiece.

In the domain of Bernarda Alba, a daughter who disobeys is no longer a daughter. 

Forced to live under their mother’s tight grip as they mourn their father’s death, can five sisters survive when young Adela dares for passion and freedom?

Olivier Award-winner Harriet Walter (Succession) plays the formidable matriarch, guarding her reputation against the rising tide of her family’s desires in this devastatingly dark and comic drama exploring the consequences of oppressing women. Isis Hainsworth (Romeo & Juliet) plays Adela the youngest, most rebellious of Bernarda's five daughters. Playing Bernada’s eldest daughter Angustias is Rosalind Eleazar (Slow Horses) and Thusitha Jayasundera (The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power) will play the role of Poncia.

Joining them is Lizzie Annis as Martirio, Pearl Chanda as Magdalena, Bryony Hannahas Maid, Marcia Lecky as Prudencia, Eileen Nicholas as Maria Josefa and Eliot Salt as Ameila. 

Catharine HumphrysAsha Kingsley, Celia Nelson, Ellouise Shakespeare-Hart, Georgia Silver, Imogen Mackie Walker, Charlotte Workman, James McHugh and Michael Naylor complete the adult cast. Esma Akar, Livia Court and Sicily Rose De Bernardini will share the role of Young Girl.

Composer Isobel Waller-Bridge (The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse) writes an original score for the production.

Directed by Rebecca Frecknall with set and costume designer Merle Hensel, lighting designer Lee Curran, composer Isobel Waller-Bridge, sound designer Peter Rice, casting by Alastair Coomer CDG and Naomi Downham, and staff director Lilac Yosiphon.

See what the critics are saying...

Gary Naylor, BroadwayWorld: With a string of commercial and critical successes behind her, Rebecca Frecknall’s debut at The National Theatre has been eagerly anticipated for years. With a sprinkling of her magic, Alice Birch as writer and Harriet Walter as the titular tyrant, how could The House of Bernarda Alba fail? Well, this visually stunning production, if somewhat confusing production, comes dangerously close.

Marianka Swain, London Theatre: It’s a wrenching watch, a mix of contemporary and ancient, social and elemental tragedy, and a grim demonstration of how, as Birch puts it, simply being born a woman can feel like the greatest punishment. Bernarda’s climactic call for “silence” is the final stifling of a desperate female cry.

Tom Carter, London Theatre1: The play is quite funny, and this new treatment by Alice Birch brings a contemporary feel to the Spanish classic while remaining aloof and insular in content and setting. The humour, which is primarily a product of tension does not alleviate tension, instead it accentuates it. The play is distinctly Chekhovian, which is enjoyable, lending to the actors’ ability to hold dialogue and deliver layer upon layer of subtext.

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian: The play was originally set in an Andalucían village and this production sucks away much of the play’s Spanishness, aside from a few fluttering fans gesturing at a sweltering summer. We do not feel the sexual heat inside the household until rather late in the play. Ultimately, the stylised elements smother the play’s intensity. There is great innovation here but the terrible swell of passion, frustration and intensity needed for the play to gain its full and devastating tragedy does not reach a head.

Holly O'Mahony, CultureWhisper: In a family of women with as varied personalities as Little Women’s March sisters, or indeed the Bridgertons, Pearl Chanda is superb as the cynical Magdalena, craving men’s freedoms but not their bodies. We feel Lizzie Annis’s yearnings as the overlooked Martirio, and Rosalind Eleazar’s fierce patience as Angustias, for whom a marriage lingers just out of reach. Isis Hainsworth as youngest sister Adela exudes her character’s sexual frustration. When in the arms of James McHugh’s Pepe El Romano, here a dancer with the hench physique of a prize bull, her passion is as vivid as her later despair, which manifests in a guttural outburst.

Stuart King, London Box OfficeHarriet Walter follows a long and illustrious line of celebrated women who have tackled the part (perhaps most notably Glenda Jackson in the mid-1980s) but few have imbued the character with such a level of oppressive frigidity. Her austere and callous veneer shows a desperation to maintain order when the male figurehead has departed — a desperation which exhibits all the markings of internalised fear of the unknown, of youthful expression, and of her own regrets.

Fiona Mountford, iNews: Walter gives Bernarda a grimly pinched and parched expression as she patrols her claustrophobic domestic domain, in which everyone judges each other with the harshness they wish they were not judged themselves. Yet the Succession actor doesn’t manage to dominate proceedings with quite the majesty one would have presumed.

Chris Selman, Gay Times

We always find it slightly tricky to score a play like The House of Bernarda Alba – while it’s objectively a very impressive piece of theatre, whether or not the audience enjoys it is a different question. It’s a powerful and thought-provoking play which unfolds on one of the most impressive-looking sets we’ve seen, and the acting performances are universally strong. It does, however, tell a relentlessly bleak story – an impressive show, but certainly not one for the faint-hearted.

To read more reviews and to share your own, click here!