The House of Bernarda Alba

Graeae Theatre Company and the Royal Exchange present Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba, translated by Jo Clifford and directed by Jenny Sealey.  Graeae are known for ‘seamlessly weaving audio description, captioning and BSL.. as well as placing disabled artists centre stage’.  I was amazed not only how seamlessly it all fitted together but how the interpretation at times added to the setting, drawing the women closer together and further apart.  As director Jenny Sealey remarks in her programme notes ‘throughout the play Adela and Angustias use being Deaf to connect or disconnect with their other family members’.

Billed as a ‘bitter and darkly comic tragedy’, five unmarried sisters live with their mother and their maid, a household that appears on the outside to be well balanced.  Bernarda (brilliantly played by Kathryn Hunter – Emperor and Kafka’s Monkey) rules less with the iron fist than with a mother’s will.  ‘Nothing is going on here’ she says, exposing the paradox that will ultimately tear her family apart.  Her maid Poncia (equally expertly played by Alison Halstead) knows Bernarda best of all, acting as the voice of reason, and warning of the consequences of her actions.

This is a very subtle play, sucking you in with a sense of normality, conformity and predictability. Each of the five daughters is unique but connected, like the lit heptagon that links the seven chairs on stage.  The world of men, violence and love affairs, shame and anguish, seems to exist just outside the home.  That only makes the final scenes all the more terrible.

In the end we ask ourselves whether Bernarda is to blame, or is it societal norms that make the conclusion possible?  To what extant is our behaviour governed by the world in which we find ourself?  It’s a question that continues in every place and every time, and one that has again become critical for us.


Royal Exchange 3-25 Feb 2017.  Details here.

photographer Jonathan Keenan

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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