Corpus Playroom, 7pm, 5th – 9th March, £6/5
Director: Jesse Haughton-Shaw
When you hear the words ‘Corpus Playroom’ there’s already almost no doubt in your mind that you’re in for something intense, hard-hitting and, let’s face it, grim. The House of Bernarda Alba fulfils these criteria but, unlike some of our past Corpus theatrical encounters, this play didn’t leave us feeling beaten up: sure, it’s bleak, but Lorca’s poignant message lingers without being shoved down your throat. You can take as much or as little from it as you want.
Perpetually stuck under a haze of mourning their father, five sisters are confined between four walls in 1930s pre-war Spain. Kept firmly under the iron fist of the tyrannical matriarch Bernarda, we watch this sisterhood of overgrown adolescents gradually disintegrate until even supposedly unconditional love is reduced to hatred and jealousy – all thanks to the presence of Pepe el Romano, a man we never see. This is a play entirely of and about women, and we are to witness the fatal effects of this absence of men.
A key aspect of this production’s success lies in the staging. White-washed walls provide the perfect backdrop to the black-clad women in mourning dress, allowing us no reprieve from the suffocating tension and familial animosity. The motif of heavy breathing brilliantly and effectively communicates the intense and almost claustrophobic heat which pervade the house, arguably a major driving force behind the storm which eventually breaks. Often characters entering and re-entering seems a bit messy and disruptive, but here the space was used resourcefully – constant appearance and disappearance served instead to emphasise the debilitating lack of privacy in the prison-house.
As for the acting, all members of the cast gave impressive performances. In such a sizeable company, it is often difficult to create and sustain fully-fledged and individual characters. However, this was not a problem for this production, as, admirably, distinctive character portrayals made the potentially intricate plot easy to follow. Kay Dent as the flighty youngest sister Adela gave a convincing performance, and as such we weren’t sure whether to pity or censure her. Olivia Stocker as Martirio conveyed jealousy and spitefulness with uncomfortable conviction. These are to name but a few, as the whole cast exhibited a natural synergy.
Whilst The House of Bernarda Alba was not exactly easy-watching, it was fast-paced, raw and truly deserved the almost full house it received. This play carries a powerful message that is expertly realised in this production, and there’s not much we could say by way of improvement. Staging, acting, directing – the lot – all seem to be in the right place, and it makes for an engaging and memorable performance.