Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond
Opened 26 March, 2004

A year ago, reviewing Lorca's The House Of Bernarda Alba at the Orange Tree, I noted that the intimate in-the-round venue enjoyed a distinct advantage in conveying the sense of claustrophobia crucial to the play's successful staging. Doña Rosita, The Spinster requires something of the same: where Bernarda immures herself and her daughters in mourning, Rosita keeps to the house awaiting word from her beloved cousin, who has gone off to the family estates in South America. Instead of enjoying the company (but not joining in the conduct) of the coquettish Manolas, Rosita works the lace for her trousseau. And works it, and works it, for 25 years. For this is Lorca, and we know from the outset that the cousin will never return and never send for her.

So, same author, same director Auriol Smith and same atmosphere at the heart of the play: domestic imprisonment (albeit this time voluntary) shrivelling the bloom of young womanhood. (The play is subtitled The Language Of The Flowers, and contains several references to the Rosa Mutabilis, which changes colour throughout the day until its bloom falls off at evening.) But this time the heaviness of atmosphere is missing. Smith inserts a few gratuitous musical sequences, including a flamenco routine even before the first scene, to unsubtly emphasise the Spanishness, because the play and production themselves don't really do the job.

Whereas Bernarda, her five daughters and half-mad mother are bound to get under each other's feet and on each other's nerves locked up in the same house, here there is no such cheek-by-jowl tension between Rosita, her solicitous aunt and her uncle who in any case spends all his time tending to his roses. The family, too, keep receiving visits from others in the town, so the sense of confinement is all but absent.

Paula Stockbridge and Sheila Reid give performances of British dependability rather than Iberian flame as Rosita and her aunt respectively; Stockbridge feels reminiscent of a reined-in Emma Thompson, especially in the uncharacteristically Chekhovian final act as the family leave their old house. Only Anna Carteret strikes sparks as the sort of plain-speaking but devoted housekeeper who recurs throughout Lorca's plays. But unlike the rose, Smith's production never really reaches full bloom in the first place.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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