4 Min Read

Visually and Psychologically Haunting: The House of Bernarda Alba

Director Susie Conte brings another adaption to the stage with Federico Garcia Lorca’s play The House of Bernada Alba. Originally a three-act play, Susie has condensed this production into a powerful 70-minutes that intensely focuses on the relationships between Bernarda Alba and her five daughters.

Bernarda imposes an eight-year isolation, forbidding her daughters from leaving their home following their father’s death. The complicated dynamics that emerge between the daughters indicate that this is the catalyst for disaster, after years of torment under Bernarda’s strict rules.

The show utilises simple design elements, such as black veils over the performer’s faces, that deliver great impact. The first sight of Alexandria Steffensen as Bernarda is utterly intimidating as she moves across the stage, glaring through her veil at the audience. This initial scene, accompanied by cello music, swiftly establishes the horror that’s about to unfold.

The House of Bernarda Alba

Collectively, Sarria Butler, Amber Gilmour, Shelby McKenzie, Amanda Watson, and Amy Welsh put on impressive performances that exemplify the conflict between the daughters and their differing personalities. Sometimes they exhibit care for one another, while at other points they turn quickly on each other in order to protect themselves.

A table placed at the centre of the stage adds to the building tension, acting like a physical barrier between the performers. Susie has crafted scenes around, and at times on, this table which end just at the boiling point; adding bit by bit to the mounting strain on this family. Cello music segues one scene into the next, with the occasional use of sound within the scenes themselves heightening the pressure. Slightly more sound design throughout the show could be a good addition.

Katrina Johnston’s lighting is the production’s most complex element of design and is highly effective in setting the tone of each scene, often casting light into areas of focus in a manner that looks like light through a window. At times the light washes over the stage, making us feel the intense heat these women are experiencing as they fan themselves in the airless house.

The House of Bernarda Alba

This story requires a lot from its performers in portraying these complex characters. Alexandria as Bernarda brings depth to her performance, showing us different sides of Bernarda that deviate from her ruthless front. We see her insecurity prompted by Amy Welsh’s Magdalena who subtly plants seeds of doubt in her mother’s mind. We even see intimidation as Adela played by Shelby McKenzie, dares to go up against her mother.

The more restless these women become, in turn, the more dismantled Bernarda’s reign over them becomes. This is not just shown through their performances but through their appearance. Initially each of the daughters is wearing their hair with slicked down fronts and tied back, but as the play progresses their hair becomes loose. As mentioned, it’s the subtle choices that make the greatest impact.

With my limited knowledge of the original piece, I see Susie’s adaption of The House of Bernarda Alba as considered and concise story which is easily accessible to audiences. The script is tight and combined with Susie’s directing moves at a prompt pace but doesn’t feel rushed.

There is a clear intention and direction with every movement and delivery. This strong storytelling enables the audience to invest in this story and actively wonder what will happen next.

This haunting production will elicit a visceral reaction within you from start to finish.

The House of Bernarda Alba presented by tempest theatre is on now through to May 6 at The Subiaco Arts Centre.