Following its 2017 debut production of Steel Magnolias, the Portable Theatre Company’s version of The House of Bernarda Alba, by Federico Garcia Lorca, staged at various venues, proved no less a success.
Set in 1930s rural Spain, the play explores the morals of village life, with underlying themes of repression, religion, class and sexual politics.
Bernada Alba is a woman not to be trifled with. Newly widowed and conscious of her standing as a ‘good’ member of the community, she imposes an eight-year period of mourning on her five daughters, condemning them to a convent-like existence, with little access to the outside world, especially the opposite sex.
She rules the household with tyrannical fervour, employs physical abuse and incarcerates her own deranged mother, Maria Josefa. The servants bear the brunt, but she does elicit gossip from her housekeeper La Poncia, who regales the daughters with tales of village life, marriage and the ways of men.
To maintain her respectability, Bernarda recognises that her eldest daughter Angustias, who has a sizeable dowry, should be married, and allows Pepe el Romano to court her.
Not surprisingly, this situation breeds jealousy among her sisters, Magdalena, Amelia, Martirio and Adela, who all find conflicting emotions and desires.
Adela, young, pretty and rebellious, yearns to break free and live her own life. She falls deeply in love with Pepe, lets him seduce her and vows to be his mistress, even if he is wed to Angustias. Horrified, Bernarda shoots Pepe, confirming her hatred of men. She misses, and he escapes, but not before Martirio tells Adela that he is dead, who hangs herself.
Bernarda insists that her daughter will be buried as a virgin, concealing the truth to the world, but continuing her tyrannical regime
This small scale production for village halls only served to convey the stultifying atmosphere of the play, which held an attentive audience, and no doubt provoked subsequent discussion.
The cast rose admirably to the demands of this high octane drama, with intelligent portrayals.
Lynne Lambert handled Bernarda with relish, likewise Arlene Cadman as Maria Josefa, delivering slivers of sense, despite her madness, and Sally Pumford as La Poncia artfully manipulated the family.
The sisters were well cast – Sophie McDougall as the rather hapless Angustia, Antonia Hoskins-Brown as catty Magdalena,Sarah Purvis as compliant, but gossipy Amelia, Claire Teasdale as the sickly, but vicious Martirio, with Freya Stone as the tragic free spirit, Adela.
Other parts were played by Carol Robson, Anne Ousby, Palesa Thompson, Carole Dodds and Lauren Robinson.