House of Bernarda Alba Review | Royal Exchange | Manchester
“No one is to cry”
Kathryn Hunter may be small but she carries a large stick. On the eve of her second husband’s funeral. Bernarda Alba (Hunter) imposes an eight-year mourning for her five adult daughters’. As head of the household, she is determined to keep the daughters’ reputation intact. They may not leave the house, wear anything other than black and men are out of the question.
Based on Federico Garcia Lorca’s 1945 Spanish play, The House of Bernarda Alba deals with themes of protection, power and punishment. The creative benefits of Lorca’s simplistic storyline are the liberating choices it frees for its director in casting.
The production includes a diverse cast of deaf and disabled performers that add an extra layer of unbridled protection from their dictatorial mother. Nevertheless, both deaf sisters played by Hermon Berhane and Nadia Nadarajah, have equal reign to translate their hopes and desires alongside their entrapped, silenced sisters.
Director Jenny Sealey uses various methods to capture Bernarda’s mourning children and engage its audience in this single set performance. The women repress their secrets but their desires are captioned on screens around the Exchange, highlighted through audio description and featured in creative sign language.
The daughters’ need for attention is constantly translated to the audience in the intimate space and emphasises a lack of freedom or peace. Although audiences can absorb the sisters suffering, Alba’s intentions and thoughts remain removed as she is often away from her daughters offstage.
The House of Bernarda Alba is a boiling pot of emotions, the character-driven world allows the story to be told by unique voices. Tackling the oppression of women and the irrepressible need for freedom that is embodied in us all.