Daily Archives: September 18, 2009

The House Of Bernarda Alba

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JOYCE MCMILLAN on THE HOUSE OF BERNARDA ALBA (National Theatre of Scotland at the Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow) for The Scotsman 18.9.09
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4 stars ****

IT’S A HIGH-RISK business, to attempt a radical update and relocation of a classic play like Federico Garcia Lorca’s great 1930’s drama The House Of Bernarda Alba.  Set in a village in Spain in a time of fierce sexual and political repression, when the shadow of Franco’s fascist rule loomed on the horizon, the play famously uses the household of of its savagely authoritarian heroine, and the plight of her five unmarried daughters, as a metaphor for the state of a country in which love, joy and the force of life itself were suppressed, in an effort to sustain a culture of absolute political and social control.

Now though – in the search for a 21st century equivalent of the dramatic situation imagined by Lorca – the writer Rona Munro, and National Theatre of Scotland associate director John Tiffany, have boldly relocated the action to a penthouse above a nightclub in a rough, tough area of Glasgow, where Bernie Alba, the recently bereaved widow of a senior gangster, holds her five girls in thrall not to a culture of sexual repression, but to a cult of savage and cynical pessimism about human nature, and about the transforming power of human creativity and love.

As a scenario, Munro’s new version of the play places a sharp stretch on the original drama; some in the audience are clearly inclined to take this mouthy Glasgow Lorca as a kind of pastiche, too much like an episode of Taggart for comfort.  And Siobhan Redmond, in the role of Bernie, has to struggle with the loss of the huge symbolic weight carried by the original Bernarda Alba; it’s hard, certainly in this performance, to see a hard-faced gangster’s wife with a gift for comic timing as a key representative of our whole culture.  But there’s an intensity in the ensemble playing of Tiffany’s tremendous all-female cast – and also in Una McLean’s heartbreaking performance as Bernie’s mad, love-starved old mother – that carries this high-risk production through to a successful conclusion.  This is a show for Glasgow, no question.  But the questions it raises about the hard-faced spiritual violence of the materialistic creed by which so many now live will resonate far beyond this show’s home city, as it tours on to Dundee, Dunfermline and Edinburgh over the next six weeks.

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Bright Black

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JOYCE MCMILLAN on BRIGHT BLACK (Vox Motus at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh) for The Scotsman, 18.9.09
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4 stars ****

LAST YEAR, emerging touring stars Vox Motus thrilled audiences across Scotland with Slick, a brilliant grotesque fantasy about an ill-parented child who finds himself in trouble when a lucrative oil-well gushes from the family toilet  bowl.  Now, though, co-directors Candice Edmunds and Jamie Harrison return to much more familiar territory, with a show about personal bereavement that echoes much recent work by other companies, and runs the risk of re-stating the obvious: that the death of a young person is tragic, and difficult to accept.

As shows on this theme go, though, Vox Motus’s Bright Black is a beautiful and sometimes disturbing piece of work, a 60-minute meditation on loss that combines brilliantly inventive design and movement with three striking performances from Meline Danielewicz, Jenny Hulse and Martin McCormick.   In the flat she once shared with her dead boyfriend, Claire cowers in a corner; the place is now so empty – stripped and thrust into bin-bags – that even doors, windows and fireplaces only unfold fleetingly  from the floor.  At the door stands her friend Fay, knocking, ringing, trying to reach her; and in the flat, a demon prowls, in the shape of Cerberus, the dog who in legend  guards the gates of the underworld.

The show could perhaps use a little less of Cerberus’s loud poetic meditations on Claire’s journey through grief; he is a demon tempting her with guilt, false bargains and black despair, not a narrator.  But in charting Claire’s slow progress through this time of shadows, this beautifully concentrated show reveals a real sensitivity to the phases of grief.   Cerberus looms out of the darkness like a true force of nature, thanks to Simon Wilkinson’s superb lighting; and Natasha Gilmore’s subtle choreography weaves sensously through the text, adding meaning, physical danger, and true tenderness, at every turn of the story.

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