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

The Gallant Forty-twa

Ten years ago, I was a curate in St Ninian’s Cathedral in Perth. Indeed, I was the Precentor there at a time when their musical life was a little in the doldrums.

One of the things about being in Perth was getting to know a little about the local regiment, the Black Watch. St Ninian’s was one of their churches, as it had worked effectively as a barracks church for many years. Inside the building, at the back, is a long plaque detailing some of the men who died, I think, in the Boer War. Whilst I was there, I remember one or two significant anniversaries being marked by the regiment with services in church and I remember going to the Black Watch museum, which was just around the corner from where I lived, to make arrangements for these commemorations. It was my first glimpse into regimental tradition – an entirely new world to me. It was the golden thread that they speak of which is passed on from one generation of soldiers to another.

I remember one or two things about those events. In particular, I remember a bugler who stood utterly stock still next to the monument after the last post, and I remember a soldier’s description of someone from the regiment who had died, “He was so kind, just like all the best officers.”

There is something in that sentiment of the sense of family which grew up around these regiments which, using the cruel genius of the British Army, recruited from small localities. People enlisted, engaged in war and returned again (if they returned again) from the same streets and towns as one another.

I was much minded of them last night on seeing the play, Black Watch. I’ve seen a lot of theatre in the last few weeks – it is one of the things that I do on holiday. Much was good. One piece, which I may blog about later was excellent. However, what I saw from the National Theatre of Scotland last night, within walking distance of home, bettered all of that by miles.

It is an emotional and engaging play. Physical, committed, manipulative, political, energetic and utterly moving. It was put on with passion. It was received with the same. It was all that theatre can convey.

Still on tour. Not to be missed if you can help it.

Rating: ★★★★★