I went to the opening night of The House of Bernarda Alba at Cellar on Monday. I had never been to a play at Cellar, but apparently it happens on occasion. The House of Bernarda Alba is a play written by Federico García Lorca, one of Spain’s most revered modern playwrights. The timing of the play was opportune as the 80th Anniversary of Lorca’s death is currently being celebrated. The play is about a tyrannical mother who imposes eight years of mourning upon her house in rural Andalusia. All of the characters are female, and several of them are in love with Pepe El Romano, the only male figure, who despite his physical absence, manages to dominate the narrative.
As the audience trickled in, a servant sat at a table on the stage cleaning. Bells tolled and there was the occasional interjection of hysterical screaming. We were quickly inducted into the oppressive atmosphere of the play leaving the sunny weather outside behind. I was initially dubious of The Cellar as the setting for the play, but the oppressive atmosphere was well captured. The intimacy of the venue allowed characters to walk through the audience, so giving us the dubious pleasure of also being members of the household. By the end, many audience members remarked that they too were ready to ‘escape’ the dreadful environment. Where Cellar perhaps let the play down was the fact that it obviously couldn’t convey the sense of rural Andalusia that was so integral to the play, and the neon lighting could be a little incongruous at times.
Of all the characters, Ella Jackson’s debut role as Bernarda Alba must be commended. Bernarda Alba, the tyrannical mother is a part that is easy to over act. It would be easy to fall into the trap of bellowing all of her lines, but Ella manages to steer clear of this whilst maintaining an imperial presence on stage. Her quietness is more chilling than any effect achieved by ranting and raving. Other standout characters were Adela played by Alethea Redfern, Bernarda Alba’s vivacious foil, and Camilla Dunhill as the maid Poncia.
The play was translated by a student Jake Donald, who was also the director of the production. I met Jake last week to discuss his experiences translating the play. He did an effective job conveying the sense of misery and sexual tension which is at the core of the play. Sometimes the lines of the more minor parts were a little too modern, and the lyricism of the language a little muted. Nonetheless, his intimate experience working with the language led to a very insightful production which I can highly recommend.