Tuesday, 24 February 1998

The House of Bernarda Alba , Feb 24, 1998

The House of Bernarda Alba by Ferdinand Lorca
Malthouse until March 1,1998
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around 23 March 1998

The Spanish produced the first Revenge Tragedies in the 17th century and its inherent vengeance was invariably related to defence of a woman's honour. This theatrical tradition of blood and passion continues in Ferdinand Lorca's play, The House of Bernarda Alba, written in 1936, the year of his death.

Flamenco choreographer, Charito Saldana, with aid of a Women Artists' Grant, has recreated Lorca's tragedy about an autocratic mother and her five unmarried daughters, less focussing more on flamenco than text.

Her collaboration with director, Simon Palomares and musical director, Richard Tedesco, heightens the dramatic intensity of particular moments although, as a whole, the text remains unintegrated with the dance and music.

It is a play about women: their social and sexual repression, which continued in Spain until quite recently. When father dies, Bernarda (Veronica Gillmer) controls their lives. A beautiful young man wants to marry the 40 year-old Angustia (Elena Maya) for money but has a clandestine tryst with the youngest, Adela (Saldana). The sisters' frustration, passion and anger is palpable in the Lorca version.

Two actors (Susie Dee & Sergio Tell) play comic serving women and comment on the action which is so subtly depicted in dance. The two are charming characters, but their scenes become repetitive and, by Act Three, interrupt the momentum of the escalating tragedy.

The inexorable surge toward Adela's suicide is imperative in the narrative, but it is anti-climactic in this version. Perhaps the series of passionate climaxes experienced in each flamenco piece has made it impossible to reach another with the final subdued image of Adela's hanged body.

Images of the women are seen in silhouette against huge bedsheets pegged on washing lines and some dramatic backlighting at the opening highlights the funereal quality.

The six musicians and singer (Titi De Algeciras) capture the essence of pain and anguish in the wailing vocal vibrato combined with sensual saxophone and guitar with pulsing percussion.

Each of the talented women has a distinctive dance style although the details of Lorca's characters and their fraught relationships and rivalries remain shadowy. The suitor, Pepe, (Johnny Tedesco) brings a forgotten maleness to the stage with his vibrating youthful energy.

This is an exciting and entertaining project that could have better integrated text. It could benefit from swifter scene changes and better sightlines.


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