When I first heard the Union would be staging Bernarda Alba
, the musical, it sounded like a spoof, a more literary version of the Silence of the Lambs musical
. But a few people have recommended it so I went against my instincts and booked. Sometimes my instincts are wrong but this time I should have trusted them as despite a lot of very good performances this didn't work for me. Michael John LaChiusa has condensed Federico García Lorca's¹ The House of Bernarda Alba
into 90 minutes and added flamenco-flavoured songs. I found these repetitive but, together with some exuberant choreography from Racky Plews, they do throw up some striking moments. This very exuberance is a problem though, it just doesn't match the story's theme of unbearable repression. And despite playing in one of London's smallest theatres Katherine Hare's production isn't claustrophobic enough. It's not space that's the problem but time, the amount of time Bernarda's daughters are expected to stay at home never comes across. She's actually planning on using mourning as a reason to keep her daughters imprisoned at home for eight years, but here the action feels as if it takes place over a couple of days. In the title role Beverley Klein is suitably terrifying and as strong-voiced as you'd expect, while there's strong performances throughout, notably from Ellen O'Grady as the housekeeper Poncia (whose story feels underdeveloped.) But Bernarda Alba is one of the most repellant characters in literature, a woman who cuts off everyone's
nose to spite her face, and setting her to a jaunty flamenco turns her into the Wicked Witch of the West.Bernarda Alba
by Michael John LaChiusa, based on The House of Bernarda Alba
by Federico García Lorca, is booking until the 17th of September at the Union Theatre.
¹the programme notes repeatedly call him Gabriel García Lorca, presumably confusing him with Gabriel García Márquez