Lorca is, by and large, poorly served by stage productions – one often simply has to take his greatness on trust. But not this time. The completeness of Mitchell's vision, which stifles her current RSC Dybbuk, makes for a brilliantly claustrophobic production here. The widowed tyrant Bernarda confines herself and her five daughters in the shuttered house for an eight-year period of mourning, but the world won't keep out; as three daughters fall for the same suitor, the factions within the house shift and warp incessantly and with ultimately fatal consequences.
Susan Brown portrays a humanity and consistency seldom seen in the part of La Poncia, the servant who speaks out against the inflexibility of Bernarda (a poker-backed, whip-wielding and appropriately named Dinah Stabb); Jill Brassington as the plain Angustias, who quickly comes to believe her luck in being wooed by the (never seen) Pepe el Romano, and Alexandra Gilbreath as Adela, her younger half-sister burning for the knowledge forbidden her by crippling social strictures and doubly forbidden by her mother's decree of immurement, are a commanding pair of antagonistic foci.
Lorca's sensitivity to, and preoccupation with, tensions between women reaches its apogee in this play, and Mitchell (with her injections of both liturgical and folk music) shows just how much power can be conjured in a small, dimly lit space. Tony Harrison, please take note.
Written for City Limits magazine.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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