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Posts Tagged ‘Federico Garcia Lorca’

I leave director Yael Farber’s productions emotionally drained. Her work has a visceral, even mystical quality, and this adaptation of Lorca’s 1933 play about tribal and family feuds and loyalties is no exception.

Marina Carr’s adaptation is set in rural Ireland, though it doesn’t really change the play; family feuds are universal. The groom is about to marry the bride (we don’t know their names) and the play opens with his widowed mother and her widowed father agreeing the match. The bride has a past with Leonardo of the ‘gypsy’ Felix family, arch enemies of the groom’s family, but he has subsequently married and has a child, with another due. Despite this, he returns and there is a clear sexual frisson between him and the bride.

The bride disappears after the ceremony whilst the party is in progress, and it transpires that she has run away with him. When they are eventually tracked down, the two men fight and the play is propelled to its tragic conclusion. The weaver, the moon and two woodcutters provide a commentary rather than participation, much like a Greek chorus, giving the play much of its spiritual, mystical quality.

It’s a gripping account, with Isobel Waller-Bridge’s music and Natasha Chivers’ lighting combining with Susan Hilferty’s design to give the production an earthiness and brooding, sensual quality. It’s staged in-the-round, with one side containing a wall that lowers to provide a dramatic entrance. Imogen Knight’s suspenseful movement incorporates some rather hypnotic low ariel work. It’s a wonderful cast, including Olwen Fouere as the bitter, defiant mother of the bride and a mesmerising performance from Brid Brennan as the Weaver.

Lorca wrote this play in a divided country, shortly before the Spanish Civil War, and it struck me that he might have been writing about the society in which he lived. The play can be a metaphor for divisions of all sorts – tribes, neighbours, societies, factions – which in many ways makes it resonate eighty-five years on in our very divided world.

Another triumph for the Young Vic.

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Simon Stone’s play is billed as ‘after Lorca’. Though it’s still a play about a woman’s tortuous journey to bear a child, it’s a very contemporary journey featuring ovulation calculations, fertility testing and IVF. Lorca’s 1934 original was more about external, social pressure; Stone’s is more about internal, personal pressure, which she talks about openly and controversially in her blog. It is an extraordinary piece of theatre, even when measured against the Young Vic’s own extraordinary achievements in recent years. Something so dramatic, raw and visceral is very rare indeed. This is the sort of theatrical experience you’ll be talking about for years and years.

Yerma means barren, and the play revolves around Her (everywoman?) who decides in her mid-thirties, on the day her and her partner John buy a house, to start a family. They both have successful careers, Her in publishing and John in finance. Her mother Helen, a lecturer, doesn’t seem to have been a natural mother and still struggles to engage emotionally with her daughters. Her’s sister Mary announces an unexpected pregnancy soon after she has started trying to conceive, but her’s journey is much longer. Her sister appears to have inherited their mother’s lack of motherly instincts, but her’s seem completely natural when she’s with her new nephew.

At the start it’s relatively light and indeed funny, but as her difficulty conceiving continues, so her mental health declines, ultimately destroying relationships and careers. Her ex Victor, now a father himself, starts work for the same company and she ends up as his boss, but he’s more than her employee. Her much younger female assistant Des encourages her openness and edginess in publishing, perhaps an unwittingly negative contribution. In many short scenes, with music maintaining the tension in-between, her life is laid bare over a number of years. In Lizzie Clachan’s extraordinary design, it’s a very voyeuristic experience. It takes out Lorca’s cast of rural folk commenting on failure to procreate and strips it back to six main characters. It departs from Lorca with a different but equally tragic conclusion, but it is in essence the same story for a contemporary audience.

I’ve seen and admired all of Billie Piper’s recent stage performances, but this is on another level altogether, completely natural and simply stunning. She has terrific chemistry with Brendan Cowell’s excellent John, a totally believable couple. Maureen Beattie conveys the coldness of mother Helen. Charlotte Randle plays a more complex Mary beautifully. John MacMillan and Thalissa Teixeira complete the cast with terrific contributions. It was only the fourth performance, but I thought Stone’s production of his own play was faultless. We left the theatre drained.

You will know by now that you have to go!

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This was Lorca’s last play, written in 1936 at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. It remained unperformed for over ten years and wasn’t seen on stage in Spain for almost 30 years. Some believe it was a prophetic metaphor for the tyranny Franco was about to unleash.

Recently widowed Bernarda Alba is presiding over a more personal tyranny, with her mother and five daughters relentlessly bullied and virtually imprisoned. An offstage character is the subject of the attentions of two of the daughters, betrothed to the one with the inheritance (though I’m not sure I understand why she alone is an heiress) and subject of the obsessive attentions of another.

Adapter Emily Mann and director Bijan Sheibani have relocated the play from Spain to Iran and this does help a modern audience identify with the situation, both the personal tyranny and the tyranny outside the walls of the house. The scene where c.30 women in black (20 ‘extras’!) are facing Mecca and praying rams this home. The problem with Lorca’s play is that the first 80% is spent establishing the backgound and creating the oppressive atmosphere which leads to the tragic conclusion; this lack of balance and pace is its weakness. 

Bunny Christie has created an evocative, claustrophobic setting ‘behind the walls’, aided by a superb soundscape from Dan Jones. You really do get a clear understanding of what it must be like living in these circumstances.

The acting throughout is impressive. Shohreh Aghdashloo has great presence as Bernarda. Jane Birtish and Mia Soteriou are excellent as housekeeper and maid, and the actresses playing all five daughters create five very different characters, each of which is completely believable.

It’s not a great play, fascinating but badly paced and somewhat depressing (though it does have moments of humour), but this is a very good production which drew me into the world of Bernarda’s family and the tyranny more than any other.

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A musical based on Lorca’s intense and very Spanish tragedy was an enticing prospect. Michael John LaChiusa has created a 90 minute one-acter that’s every bit as intense as the play.

We’re in the home of Bernarda, her mother, five daughters and three servants shortly after the death of her husband. Three of the daughters are in love with offstage Pepe – one is betrothed to him, one is having an affair with him and the third just secretly in love with him. The problem with the show (and the play, if I remember correctly) is that it takes 80% of the time to set the scene and just 20% for the tragedy to unfold. There’s a lot of female latin emotion before you get to any action!

Hilary Statts has provided a highly effective design that looks and feels very much 30’s Spain. There’s a superb central performance from Beverley Klein as haridan Bernarda and a fine ensemble in which I was particularly impressed by Ellen O’Grady as housekeeper Poncia, Sophie Juge’s Augustias and Amelia Adams-Pearce as Adela. There’s some excellent choreography from Racky Plews and Katherine Hare’s staging is fine. The band, hidden behind a bank of seats, sounded as if they were in the room next door and much of the subtlety of the strings, guitar and mandolin was lost.

The problem is, I didn’t like the music and I didn’t really like the show! I found myself admiring the production, the acting and the singing, but I wasn’t at all involved with the story. It seems to me that if create a musical from a play, it must be for a reason; frankly, I find this adaptation a bit pointless. We have survived and could continue to survive perfectly well without a musical of Bernarda Alba and that’s the crux of it. I so wish they had found a better show to display such talent.

Of course, it could be another Parade (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2011/09/05/parade), in which case I might be contradicting myself in 4 years time. Watch this space!

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