“I wanted to rewind the first couple of minutes and see them again,” Andrew whined at the end of The House of Bernarda Alba. Not for the first time Phil wished Andrew would pay more attention to things.
But on this occasion, to be fair, THOBA does open with something of an unexpected coup de théâtre – a promising start indeed. Not only did it introduce the clever conceit that Bijan Sheibani‘s production has adopted but it grabbed the Whingers’ limited attentions instantly making them wonder if this brilliantly timed stunt was the work of theatrical illusionist Paul Kieve.
Domineering Bernarda Alba has imposed the traditional eight year period of mourning on her house following the death of her husband. She has banned her five daughters from forming any sort of relationship and they are under a house arrest of sorts. But at least it limits their sartorial choices one must make of a morning, and who doesn’t look reasonably turned out and at their slimmest in black? Phil is thinking of introducing it for the Whingers.
The prolific Bunny Christie has come up trumps again creating a set that wouldn’t look lost in the Lyttelton auditorium, transforming the Almeida‘s playing area into something larger than it can possibly be.
Post Mr Alba’s funeral this area is impressively filled with a host of black-clad mourners (have they dressed up all the backstage staff?). In a rather long, location-setting ritual they file in almost endlessly in a scene which manages to be both spellbinding and slightly tedious: they enter slowly enough for you to count them all (nearly 30), check your watch as they are individually served tea, indulge in a bit of showy mourning, have their tea glasses collected, then file out each paying their respects to Bernarda. Indeed there’s so little dialogue you wonder how long it’s going to take them to get through the actual text. But, as your attention wanders you can indulge in a La Cage Aux Folles-chorus-in-reverse chance to scan the crowd and see if you can spot the man in drag.
Iranian American actress Shohreh Aghdashloo is an imposing and glamorous Bernarda (one of the few in the cast to keep Lorca’s original character name) wielding her cane like Maleficent in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. Despite a somewhat stilted delivery she has a charisma that makes her strangely mesmerising to watch. Jane Bertish is an excellent Darya and it’s always good to see WEW favourites Pandora Colin (Asieh) and Amanda Hale (Elmira) even if Act 2 is so crepuscularly lit (Jon Clark) that it’s often difficult to tell which daughter is which.
Jasmina Daniel makes a couple of brief appearances as BA’s Miss Haversham-ish ma. She appears to be far too young to be her mother giving the production the feel of a girl’s school annual play. The eldest daughter has received a proposal from the village hearthrob and is forced to do her courting through a window. Andrew declared that all the Whingers’ affairs of the heart should henceforth be conducted thusly, in the unlikely event that Cupid should ever stray their way again.
Despite the appearance of a vacuum cleaner and a sewing machine to pep up the Whingers’ interest some of it drags. It splutters into life all too infrequently and never quite manages to ratchet up the tension sufficiently, so it feels like a long haul to the interval which finally arrives at 1 hour 25 minutes. But it would be churlish (even for us) to depart with only 35 minutes left to go and miss the extra chill added to the ultimate tragedy which relocating the story adds.
But, along with our new courting procedures we are also inspired to wear burkas which might prove a refreshing alternative to our signature hand-in-front-of-face posturings and thus increase our romantic prospects in the process. So perhaps not an altogether wasted evening then.