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Trip to the National Theatre to see The House of Bernarda Alba

Posted by: Laura Williams - 29 November 2023 - Activities & Sports - Read time: 5 minutes

On Wednesday 29th November, I organised a trip to the National Theatre for A level Theatre Studies students to watch Federica Garcia Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba with Harriet Walters as the steely matriarch, presiding over her house of five daughters.

We are studying Yerma (the second play in this trilogy) centred around a young girl who becomes obsessed with idea of having a child. The set was visually compelling; imagine the wall of a house torn down for a voyeuristic glimpse into the inner machinations of family life and observing different rooms, often multiple rooms at the same time. A sterile apple green lighting scheme gave the scene a hospitalised vibe; uncomfortable and austere.

The first scene opened to a cacophony of female voices, it was the aftermath of the death of the father and we witnessed all the conversations of the female community left behind (including the servants). Bernarda (Walters) cut a cold, bitter and critical figure, lacking in compassion for her daughters and determined for them to be ‘protected’ from the savage villagers beyond. Indeed the outside world was presented as a hostile and savage place, in the penultimate scene, Bernarda emerges with a gun and at one stage, a rowdy mob of villagers storm the house.

As the scenes unfolded in different rooms, we came to know each daughter intimately and their stories become intertangled with the only male character, Pepe El Romano, due to marry the eldest daughter; Augustias. Pepe never spoke, amplifying the fact that this is a play about female sexuality, female voices and female repression. The looming Catholic faith was present through the crosses in each room and crosses were silhouetted on the chairs too. The black costumes and Bernarda’s extreme emphasis on etiquette and propriety led her, at one stage, to punish one of her daughters Martirio by scalding her hand in water over a minor infraction.

Lorca wrote this play just a few months before he was killed on August 18th, 1934 for being a homosexual with progressive political views. His death initiated his international canonisation as one of the Civil War’s most important martyrs. I know that the students appreciated the thematic threads across the two Lorca plays; the domineering Catholic faith, suicide, rebellion, stifled sexuality and lack of freedom or opportunities for women as well as the expression of ‘duende’ which is equated with a dark human struggle or ‘spirit’. These themes ignited many interesting debates on the tube home!