The House of Bernarda Alba preview
Fresh from her triumph at the EIF with The Last Witch, Rona Munro has created an inventive new adaptation of a Lorca classic. Yasmin Sulaiman meets a playwright at the height of her powers
It’s been a big year for Rona Munro. Just weeks after the premiere of The Last Witch at the Edinburgh International Festival, the Scottish playwright is gearing up for the first performance of her adaptation of The House of Bernarda Alba, by revered Spanish dramatist and early victim of General Franco’s regime, Federico Garcia Lorca. In this major new production for the National Theatre of Scotland, the action has been transposed from rural Spain to Glasgow’s East End.
The setting may sound unlikely but according to Munro, the emotions of the play will ring true with audiences in Scotland. ‘A lot of the productions I’ve seen of this play have been English,’ she says, ‘and in a sense, because there’s a more repressed – for want of a better word – culture in England, it’s harder to believe that the characters would say and do the things they do. In Scotland, funnily enough, I think we’re more emotionally open in a weird way that chimes with the original.’
In Lorca’s original play – first performed in 1945 but completed shortly before his death in 1936 – the eponymous matriarch imposes an eight-year period of mourning after the death of her second husband, keeping her five daughters cooped up at home. In order to make this idea believable in a modern day setting, Munro places the action in a gangland setting so the characters are unwilling to step outside their house, rather than being forced to remain indoors. ‘Finding a modern context that made that credible was quite hard,’ she explains. ‘But as soon as we introduced the gangland crime element and the paparazzi, and I thought about how messed up these girls would be, it was quite easy.’
The House of Bernarda Alba will mark the first time Munro has worked with NTS associate director John Tiffany, whom she credits with the original idea and for securing its impressive all-female cast. Siobhan Redmond (pictured) takes on the role of Bernarda in her second turn for the NTS after playing Elizabeth I in David Harrower’s 2006 adaptation of Schiller’s Mary Stuart. Munro attributes Redmond’s performance with creating ‘the most epic, tragic moment I’ve ever had responsibility for’ but she’s also glowing in her praise of the supporting roles, taken on by the likes of Una McLean, Myra McFadyen and Julie Wilson Nimmo, more popularly known for playing Miss Hoolie on Balamory.
‘There’s an embarrassment of riches in Scotland as far as fabulous actresses go,’ she says, ‘though there’s not always the parts for them, and I think we’ve been really lucky to collar the strongest. That’s one of the most exciting things for me about this piece: that we’re able to put 12 women of that calibre in one room and just let them rip. It’s pretty potent stuff.’
And while she’s excited about the adaptation’s premiere and impending tour, Munro is also well aware of the potential pitfalls of taking on the iconic writer’s work. ‘I think Lorca done badly is as bad as it gets, and Lorca done well is more beautiful and more daring than probably anything else you’ll ever see on stage. He’s a dangerous writer to approach because if you get it wrong it can be so over the top and pretentious but if you get it right it’s superb.’
The House of Bernarda Alba, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, Tue 15 Sep–Sat 3 Oct.