30 November 2017

Pleasingly gripped by The House of Bernarda Alba at Cervantes Theatre

I discovered Cervantes Theatre by happy accident. I was going to Union Theatre and with some time to kill I went for a short walk (I am still counting my steps) and I discovered Cervantes Theatre almost next door, just a little more away from the main road.

The next day the internet told me that they stage Spanish language plays with the productions performed in both Spanish and English. I was not very interested in plays performed in Spanish but I was interested in Spanish plays and so I joined their mailing list. Soon after I did that they told me about The House of Bernarda Alba by Federico GarcĂ­a Lorca who is probably most famous in the UK now as the author of Yerma which has had two recent runs at Young Vic. It was written in 1936 and was his last play; he was killed in the Spanish Civil War in the same year.

It took me a while to find a date to see it and by the time that I did so all the Spanish dates were sold out, including an extra week added to the run. I hope that success continues.

I did my usual thing and went to Culture Grub which is just as well as the bar above the theatre was limited to packets of crisps etc. I also had to make do with a bottle of San Miguel but that was understandable.

The theatre itself was small and neat with comfortable individual seating on three sides of a slightly L-shaped stage. The seats in the middle of the central row were marked as best but I only had a standard ticket so I chose a seat in the front row on the base of the L. It was an excellent position, possibly better than the best seats.

Bernarda Alba was a fierce matriarch bringing up her five daughters, aged between 20 and 39, in rural Spain in the 1930's. Also in the all-women house was Bernarda's elderly mother and a housekeeper.

The play started after the funeral of Bernarda's second husband and, being deeply religious, she imposed strict mourning on her daughters, one of them got scolded for carrying a blue fan rather than a black one. She had been fiercely protective of her daughters and the period of mourning intensified this with the family having little contact with the outside world. One consequence of this was that any man who came into view, such as the farmhands, caused something of a stir. This stirring and its consequences was the main story of the play.

The main construct of the play was the interaction between the women and it was a play mostly of dialogue. Most of the physical action was the women going about their daily routines, such as washing and sewing. It was a compelling view of a family of diverse characters trying to live by the hard rules set by the head of the house.

The House of Bernarda Alba was a gripping and satisfying play and it was easy to see why the run had been extended and it is being brought back for another run in 2018.

The evening had a happy ending as I spent a few minutes talking to one of the actresses, Carolina, who is a friend of the woman who sits next to me at work. It's nice when things like that happen.

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