Monday, 4 June 2018

The House of Bernarda Alba, May 31, 2018 ***1/2

Adapted by Patricia Cornelius from play by Federico García Lorca
By Melbourne Theatre Company
At Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne, until July 7, 2018 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Stars: ***1/2
 Review also published in Herald Sun online on Fri June 1, 2018, and later in print. KH
Melita Jurisic
Federico García Lorca’s 1936 play, The House of Bernarda Alba, is famous for the repressive and suffocating atmosphere in his depiction of a Spanish village home inhabited only by women.

Playwright, Patricia Cornelius, transposes this pre-war Spanish scenario to the present-day in an isolated house in hot, arid, rural Western Australia, and effectively blends Australianisms and modern references with poetic language.

Bernadette (Melita Jurisic), the widow of a mining tycoon, forces her four daughters (Peta Brady, Candy Bowers, Bessie Holland, Emily Milledge), her demented mother (Sue Jones), and housekeeper (Julie Forsyth) to mourn for eight weeks without access to the outside world.

Lorca’s themes of repression, isolation, brutality and sexual frustration are evident in Cornelius’s grim adaptation directed by Leticia Cáceres, but this production lacks the menace and claustrophobic quality of Lorca’s original play.

The motivation for them to remain incarcerated in their mother’s house is not as clear as it is for Lorca’s Alba family, so we must suspend disbelief to accept that 21st century women would not simply walk out and keep walking – even if mum demands they stay, hides the keys, and controls their internet and phone access.

Eldest daughter, Angela, played with humour and pathos by Brady as a spiky, sickly, sheltered ‘spinster’, is surprised and empowered when she inherits a fortune from her natural father who died before her mother married the recently deceased stepfather.

This leaves Bernadette and her other daughters penniless and dependent, so, when a local lad, a miner, proposes to Angela, Bernadette sees a way to control Angela’s fortune and secure her own future.

Although the acting is uneven, Jurisic is a potent presence as matriarch, Bernadette, playing her with faded, stately elegance and cruelty; the inimitable Forsyth is her perfect foil, playing destitute housekeeper, Penelope, as a mischievous, often hilarious observer, while Jones is suitably wild as grandmother, Maria.

While Cáceres’s direction heightens the agonising slowness of time passing at the rate of a ceiling fan in this unhappy house, this deprives the production of dynamic range in pace and tone, leaving it lacking the repressed passion and danger of Lorca’s play.

by Kate Herbert 

Cast: Melita Jurisic, Candy Bowers, Peta Brady, Julie Forsyth, Bessie Holland, Sue Jones, Emily Milledge

Set and Costume Designer Marg Horwell
Lighting Designer Rachel Burke

Composer Irine Vela
Sound Designer Jethro Woodward

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