Words and Music by Michael John LaChiusa
Based on the play The House of Bernarda Alba by Federico Garcia Lorca
Union Theatre, London
August 23 – September 17
Tuesday – Saturday 7.30 Saturday and Sunday 3pm
Review: William Russell, 23 08 11
Fringe theatre at its best.
Lorca’s famous play about the 1930s small town matriarch who exercises iron control over her five daughters has been compressed from its two and a half hour plus running time most effectively by Michael John LaChiusa in this staging of his 2006 off Broadway musical getting its UK premiere.
The production, directed by Katherine Hare, stands comparison with the superbly performed1986 production of the play starring Glenda Jackson as Bernarda and Joan Plowright as the maid, Poncia. And is streets better than the lavishly staged National Theatre 2005 version by David Hare starring the very un-Iberian Penelope Wilton in which a host of English gels attempted, equally unconvincingly, to play sexually repressed young Spanish women.
On a bare, but effective set – whitewashed wall, some chairs, and not much else – designed by Hilary Statts, the family goes through its agonies following the death of Bernarda’s husband as her five daughters, led by the plain, but well dowered Angustias, beautifully played by Sophie Juge, and the younger, wilful, lovely Adela, nicely done by Amelia Adams-Pearce, vie for the affections of Pepe el Romano Angustias’ never seen suitor. The other sisters look on, some jealous, some sympathetic, all stifling in their mourning black weeds confined by Bernarda to the house.
Beverley Klein, looking like the great Katina Paxinou, is terrific, a pint sized, gimlet eyed Bernarda bullying everyone and relishing the fact that, her husband dead, she is now in control of her own destiny and that of her daughters.
The entire cast perform so well that mentioning individials is almost unfair, but Buster Skeggs has a marvellous time as Maria Josepha, the senile grandmother, every bit as sex starved as the rest, and Ellen O’Grady impressive as the wise Poncia watching what is happening with despair while trying to persuade the half mad Bernarda to stop locking up her daughters and allow them to marry even if the man is socially inferior.
Done without an interval, it is an intense, enthralling evening and LaChiusa’s score, which uses vaguely flamenco themes and rhythms, adds to the sense of claustrophobia and sexual tension. It is not a score which invites applause for individual songs, but as a thought through creation it certainly works. There is a lot of heel tapping, hand clapping, some impressive choreography, and a splendid off stage stallion.
This is fringe theatre at its best, not a coach party night out, but worth it for anyone interested in serious musicals.
Adela – Amelia Adams-Pearce
Servant/Prudencia – Susan Braun
Young Maid – Maria Coyne
Magdalena – Soophia Foroughi
Angustias – Sophie Juge
Bernarda Alba – Beverley Klein
Amelia – Emily-Jane Morris
Poncia – Ellen O’Grady
Maria Josepha – Buster Skeggs
Martirio – Rebecca Trehearn
Director – Katherine Hare
Musical Direction – Leigh Thompson
Choreography – Racky Plews
Designer – Hilary Statts
Lighting – Sherry Coenen