The House of Bernarda Alba – Citz

Above the stage in this play by the National Theatre of Scotland there floats a large, mirrored ceiling. In this update, the action has all been plucked from the Andalusian countryside of Lorca’s original and been thrust kicking and screaming into Glasgow’s East End underworld. How well does this 70 year old Spanish play hold up a mirror to contemporary Scotland? Surprisingly perhaps, it does it reasonably well, amidst the claustophobia of one sinister family whom we see in only one setting – the dreamy cream living room of their home above the club that is the centre of their business operations.

Amongst a strong cast, Siobhan Redmond seethes with anger in the title role. Her vicious comic barbs are what keep the action flowing. It is she who can generally keep her house in order by the raising of an immaculately coiffured eyebrow. It is she who has an answer for everything. It is she who will sort things out. She may be a villain, but she is an arch, camp villain whom it is curiously difficult to dislike. It is the complexity of Bernie’s own life which feeds the hatreds that poison the characters of all those around her. That same complexity makes her strangely vulnerable, even when grasping a baseball bat and heading down to the street below to defend her territory from all comers.

Almost every character in this play is imprisoned in one way or another. So many lives locked away. The plush apartment where all the action is set is a prison for the five daughters and also for Bernie’s mother, who is herself locked into a room beyond. Una Maclean’s grandmother figure appears for just a couple of scenes and tantalises the audience with her tragic heartbreaking nonsense.

It is unusual to see a stage so full of female characters from beginning to end. Twelve talented female actors sizzle with anger and repressed rage in a play which will teach us not to be sentimental about what the world would be like if men were absent.

Rating: ★★★½☆
Other Reviews:
2/5 Robert Dawson Scott in the Times
3/5 Mark Fisher in the Guardian
3/5 Adam Ramsey in the Big Issue
4/5 Joyce MacMillan in the Scotsman