The bottom is respiratory hearth, we’re instructed, in “The Home of Bernarda Alba,” the Spanish traditional by Federico García Lorca that opened Tuesday on the Nationwide Theater in London in a ferocious new model by Alice Birch. The present runs by means of Jan. 6.
Directed by Rebecca Frecknall and starring Harriet Walter from “Succession” within the imperious title position, it truly is scorching. Lorca’s play a few tough-as-nails matriarch and her 5 single daughters in Thirties Andalusia is often revived in theaters in England, however I’ve by no means seen an ensemble so totally dedicated to the play, which races towards its tragic end with genuinely stunning power.
As Frecknall has demonstrated in work together with that of Tennessee Williams and the Broadway-bound revival of “Cabaret,” she has a present for reinvigorating acquainted titles as if they had been model new. Her expertise for daring visuals comes with a capability to break down the space between previous and current, in order that performs from a earlier period communicate to us within the right here and now, making Lorca’s 1936 household drama as riveting as, properly, “Succession.”
Merle Hensel’s pale, scientific set exhibits a cross-section of a gated house. Bernarda’s second husband has simply died, and we’re wanting into the bedrooms — jail cells, actually — inhabited by a family in torment that, by the tip, will confront a second, extra stunning dying.
We catch glimpses of surprising intimacy: Angustias (Rosalind Eleazar), the eldest daughter, pleasuring herself, unseen by her siblings, or their dotty grandmother (Eileen Nicholas) retreating underneath her mattress, as if hiding from an unforgiving world.
Conversations between the ladies generally happen concurrently, in order that the viewers has to scan the three-tiered set to work out who’s speaking, and the place. And in Birch’s model, they’re a notably expletive-prone bunch.
Birch performs quick and free with the unique in different methods, too. The play’s main male character, a 25-year-old native stud by the identify of Pepe El Romano, stays offstage in Lorca’s model, however not right here. As performed by the actor-dancer James McHugh, the younger man bounds into view initially, his physicality at odds with the ladies’s constricted lives.
Pepe is promised to the wealthiest daughter, Angustias, however has captured the hearts of a number of of her youthful sisters, Martirio (Lizzie Annis) and Adela (Isis Hainsworth), and their competitors for his consideration drives the play.
Bernarda maintains that her daughters “get by very properly” with out boyfriends. That perspective might need one thing to do with the philanderers, and worse, whom Bernarda has had the misfortune to marry. It’s right here strongly implied that considered one of them has bequeathed his wealth to Angustias to make up from past the grave for abusive conduct towards her throughout his life.
Frecknall has directed performs centered on households earlier than: “Three Sisters,” for one, and final season’s starry “A Streetcar Named Want.” However right here she is at house with a play a few far bigger brood, every of whom is sharply individuated.
Annis, particularly, is a revelation because the indrawn Martirio, who finds herself drowning in a hatred she didn’t know she possessed — and reeling from a serious act of cruelty from her mom. Her adversary is the excitable Adela, a wild youngster who commits the sin of carrying inexperienced when the one permissible colour is mourning black. In that position, Hainsworth, who performed Juliet in Frecknall’s “Romeo and Juliet” this previous summer time, offers herself over as soon as once more to the consuming recklessness that goes with younger love.
The older era consists of Nicholas as Maria Josefa, the fantasist grandmother who generally speaks the reality, and whose flashes of mood recommend that Bernarda’s personal fury may run within the household. Thusitha Jayasundera is dryly humorous as Bernarda’s long-serving housekeeper Poncia, who remembers her personal marriage to a woebegone husband who preferred to rear goldfinches — till she killed all of them.
However any “Bernarda Alba” wants a formidable performer to tackle the position of this most forbidding of matriarchs. Walter, an English theater veteran who has turn out to be a TV star in her 70s, is the identify attraction and maybe accounts for the presence of a industrial companion, Playful Productions, which additionally suggests a attainable onward life for the present. Walter doesn’t disappoint, whether or not she is casting a withering eye at her youngsters, or talking disdainfully of the locals. Her favourite phrase is “silence,” used as a command.
However the actress’ unhappy eyes additionally trace that Bernarda is broken, and that’s why she will be able to’t assist “policing,” as she places it, her youngsters’s hearts. “I must be haunting your goals,” Bernarda says to her daughters at one level. It’s a efficiency, and a play, that dwell on within the head.
The Home of Bernarda Alba
By Jan. 6 on the Nationwide Theater in London; nationaltheatre.org.uk.