Bernarda’s House

September 13, 2014


Veronica Coburn sets out a funnytrap for her audience, through the use of the red nose, in this sort-of prequel to Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba. Spinning a web of light laughs, ranging from crude to clownish, she then let’s loose the bitter fangs of the source material, paralysing us with a young girls descent into callous cronehood.

The parallel with the romantic notions life fills young girls heads with,and the bitter realities it has in store for them, is one of the smartest concepts I’ve seen in theatre all year.

Serviced by the comic stylings of Clare Barrett and Amy Conroy, who- even without the prosthetic make-up they donned in I Heart Alice Heart I, are utterly credible as they age from girlish candour to spiteful servitude- this tale of how a patriarchal society not only punishes women, but can turn them against their own advancement, is a slug to the gut that bears real emotional welly.

Unfortunately, many Irish audiences are not adept at looking beyond the humour of a situation and seem not to be able to tell the wood for the trees. Even as the show descended into darkness they emitted belly laughs a plenty as the women discussed rape, oppression, anger and revenge showing a worrying detachment to the story the performers were trying to tell.

Part of this can be blamed on director Veronica Coburn, who doesn’t call on her actors to reign it in as the horrors unfold. Moments that shouldn’t have been funny- that were supposed to symbolise the twisted determination of Alba, were played up for a laugh, clouding what exactly the productions point was.

It’s still a solid, ambitious piece of theatre that left me unsettled after. To watch the light in Barrett’s eyes darken from ‘delighted to see you’ to ‘yis can fuck right off’ is proof positive of a brilliant performance. She’s ingested the shit life’s flung at her character and let it harden in her veins and when taken in unison with Painted Birds production running further up the street, presents a disturbing picture of what happens in a society where there isn’t a right to choose.

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