Review: The House of Bernarda Alba

LOTTIE UNWIN decides that this experiment doesn’t quite work at the ADC.

ADC Bernarda Alba Grease Lorca Spanish Theatre

The House of Bernarda Alba, ADC Theatre, 3rd-7th November.


While last week’s A Streetcar Named Desire lacked any variation, The House of Barnarda Alba swung from the tragedy to the comedy of a tragi-comedy with the momentum of a yoyo. 

The audience laughed like they do on chat shows, enthusiastically and at just the right minute.  In both cases it seems a bit suspicious.  Either they were loyal family and friends or maybe they just were very bubbly people enjoying the funny moments like I was, but with a bit more vigor. The dance to a Spanish version of Grease’s own ‘Totally Devoted To You’ left me awestruck.  The voice in the back of my head went from absolute horror to intrigue, muttering ‘Oh how experimental, what a demonstration of intellectual whit’, and then it just looked ridiculous again and I was rolling my eyes, a lot.  When the men come back to work, cue some very sexually deprived young girls swooning, the Harvester’s Song was the final straw.  It would admirably sell an ‘all you can eat’ Sunday lunch when Harvester takes on a Mexican influence, but surely cannot be taken seriously. 

The production felt as though it had been given a lot of thought and it was really experimental, but as with all experiments sometimes things don’t work out the way you expected.  The dancing for example, which I suppose on paper sounded great, probably could have been but unless everyone does it in time it’s just a bit of a mess.  Rather than being moved I was too concerned that they were going to hit each other.  Tension didn’t really happen either, with some seriously suspect sound effects like the gun shot that had as much immediacy as a chair being dragged across a room, and the subsequent acting did little to make me care any more.

The impressive opening of haunting choral singers dressed in black was oddly shattered by Eve Rosado’s brilliant and hilarious performance as the all seeing housekeeper Poncia, with her Irish twang thoroughly in tact.  There was nothing moving again but a lot that was a bit entertaining until the final scene, which was absolutely stunning, with the potential of the lighting box (that you kind of felt was there all along) really coming to fruition and some beautiful staging. The set was clever, with white panels falling from the sky to create the simplistic spaces, and the staging was picture perfect, especially the inspired set up at the beginning of the second act, with Bernarda and her four children sitting in black sitting around a long white table.  Against such brilliant design the acting was goodish all round, with Ellie Massie’s horrible but tortured Bernarda standing out.  While I accept that Adela is the sexy one, dressing her like a New Look Model in patent stilettos and a risky above the knee skirt whilst the others are covered up like nuns lacked a little subtlety. 

Despite some really dodgy moments, I did really want to know what was going to happen, possibly to Lorca’s credit.  And, it did make me laugh, alternatively at it, sometimes in terror that the mock Enrique Iglesias sound track wasn’t ending, and sometimes with it.