By Molly Knox
This year’s Fresher’s play, ‘The House of Bernarda Alba’, is a fierce and powerhouse-driven performance, well worth your attention. Beneath the controlling matriarchal force of Bernarda, this Garcia Lorca play (translated by Lujan O’Connell) holds a magnifying glass up to a grieving all-female family, grappling with reputation, love, class, and bitter quarrelling.
The true highlight of this production is the inspiringly raw acting and its careful and precise direction. All of the cast form a cohesive portrayal of a bitter family which keeps the audience gasping and guessing throughout. In particular, the voice acting and characterisation are very strong – and those who perform with Irish accents do so convincingly.
When tensions heighten and the stakes become higher than the characters could’ve imagined, it is the characterisation of these actor’s voices and their anguished, guttural and spiteful lines, often said overlapping and at an effectively quick pace, that allow the production to have moments worthy of chills. As some of the moments of familial infighting build to breaking points, the climb to these points is often, unfortunately, more engrossing than the payoffs which are sometimes a little anticlimactic – although the last ten minutes of this play, as they should, do an incredible job of keeping an audience engaged and holding back goosebumps.
Catherine Turner, playing Bernarda, is outstanding. This charismatic portrayal of an image-obsessed matriarch commands the space in every way shape and form and emboldens the tension of every scene this character appears in. Furthermore, although it is hard not to commend all actresses in ‘The House of Bernarda Alba’ for their subtle and biting delivery, both Juliette Willis and Tansy Adams deserve high praise for their urgency and presence on stage. Adams, playing the mother of Bernarda, functions as an Oracle within the piece and makes any scene she appears in instantly gripping. Willis delivers a strong, tragic, and defiant portrayal of Adela, providing powerful moments such as a raw and emotive scene where the truth outs between herself and Martirio, played by Honor Douglas. Both Douglas and Willis bring the root of their conflict out in a stylishly directed and beautifully uninhibited clash between the two, centre stage towards the very end.
Despite the strengths of the voice acting within this performance, it should be noted that the physicality, at times, felt perhaps a little static, and this led to moments of awkwardness or dialogue hinting at movement which did not occur. The staging and blocking, however, do provide interesting dynamics and levels which symbolise the discord within The House.
The costume in ‘Bernarda Alba’ is right on the money; the black, mourning garments of the majority of the cast seem even more potent when Adams appears frantic, unruly, and dressed all in white, as well as the bursts of colourful dress which the noncompliant Adela persists to wear. The sound production is, unfortunately, a significant issue within the recording of this production, and its lack of clarity can sometimes create a muffled and mumbled effect on actors seemingly well-projected and articulated lines–this is an issue that appears to improve during the performance, although it can lead to problems in understanding what is being said at all times.
Contrary to this, the music and sound effects feel appropriate when used, and contribute a delicate sharpness to the tension which permeates the whole story. Moreover, the lighting is something that sometimes falls victim to some obvious choices of symbolism but undoubtedly has its strengths in conveying the oppressive dynamic Bernarda creates among her family.
Overall, ‘The House of Bernarda Alba’ is a play pulled together with passion and infused with razor-edged tension and on the ball acting and directing.
Image: Durham Student Theatre