Thursday, 3 November 2016

The House of Bernarda Alba / The Burial at Thebes

Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow
Three stars / Four stars

Family feuds are at the heart of these two productions performed by the RCS' final year BA Acting students. While the relationship between a domineering mother and her five daughters desperate to break her grip is the backbone of Federico Garcia Lorca's final play, The House of Bernarda Alba, a sister's love for her slain brother is what drives The Burial at Thebes, Seamus Heaney's take on Antigone. While Heaney's version lends a clarity to the original story's poetry made even clearer in Gareth Nicholls' expansive contemporary dress production, James Graham-Lujan and Richard L O'Connell's 1940 translation of Lorca enables director Ros Philips to take the play beyond words.

Philips begins playfully by having her cast of eight women line up onstage in nightgowns and introducing themselves accompanied by a Balearic beat before confiding something they've managed to avoid telling their mothers. The mood changes by way of Isabel McClelland's fierce performance as Bernarda, which is offset by the stifled yearning of her daughters.

Nicholls begins The Burial at Thebes like a film noir, with Sinead Sharkey's Antigone sneaking into a desk-lamp lit office and stealing papers on the death of her brother Polynices. The all male Chorus are a bunch of black-suited civil servants tending to a money-obsessed King Creon's business, but this is Sharkey's play as Antigone fights for dear life.

Both plays focus on how a woman's power can be destroyed, either by a domineering patriarchy, or by the willingness of a matriarchy to accept it. Either way, that power remains heroic in both life and death.

The Herald, November 4th 2016

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