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The House Of Bernarda Alba

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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This NTS production presents (Rona Munro’s) second stab at an adaptation of (Federico Garcia Lorca’s) very Spanish tragedy. As with all translated works it’s difficult for monolingual audiences to judge whether this is a piece with its tongue cut out, but even before a word is spoken the visual links to its Iberian origins are clear.

Bright 1930’s Andalusian stone finds new form in an off-white ensemble of a living room that’s all leather and mirrors; designer (Laura Hopkins’) well-rendered replica of gangland gaudiness is the home of a woman whose girlfriends must surely include some Old Firm Footballers’ wives.

The house holds domineering mother Bernie (Siobhan Redmond) and five daughters, all recently bereaved after the death of Bernie’s husband. The shady family business is the backdrop for their struggle for some semblance of sanity in the aftermath. It wouldn’t be a Glaswegian tale without splashes of caustic humour, and it’s to these expulsions of vitriol that Redmond’s talents seem best suited. Elsewhere, her histrionics slip somewhat from the tragicomic tightrope the script has her walk over.

It’s a tough trick, but one performed with success by (Myra McFadyen) as long-suffering family friend Penny. The script is a gutsy one, and McFadyen best digests the fibre of the phrasing Munro serves up. Also excellent here is (Louise Ludgate) as willfully damaged daughter Marty. Ludgate powers through the play like a juggernaut jammed in top gear, seeming to best master the heady pace of the piece. Hurtling toward a tragic finale, the all female cast are asked to find time to meditate upon the idea generations of their gender have been racked by a desire to break free from bonds peculiar to their sex and sexuality.

With that in mind, special mention should be made of the punchy portrayal of youngest daughter Adie (Vanessa Johnson) and the poignant one of her grandmother Mary (Una McLean). The two show each of their characters is as desperate as the other to escape the space that’s artfully enfolding and tantalisingly expanding at intervals through subtle staging by director (John Tiffany) and lighting designer (Natasha Chivers).

In the end, though, neither of these elements can conceal the shortcoming of a climax that is decidedly, if inexplicably, hurried. It’s one that leaves us feeling this Scottish re-telling of the tale, done with no little haste, may well be at much expense to its original taste.

- Andrew Davies-Cole


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