“Well that was two hours of absolute bullshit” – drawls a house keeper clad in funereal black leaning in the doorway.
And so the laconic, futile tone is set from the get-go in MTC’s latest production, The House of Bernarda Alba, powered by a fierce female cast it would be crazy to miss.
It was Argentinian-Australian director Leticia Careres who saw the potential of pairing her beloved playwright Lorca with Patricia Cornelius’s trademark sharp-tongued, whip-smart women and unapologetic darkness. And the Aussie playwright has done an amazing job in transporting the 82-year-old narrative – the first ever written for an all-female cast – from rural Spain to the dusty, desolate West Australian outback.
And while a lot has changed on the outside since Lorca’s time, socially and politically, not a lot has changed on the inside, where the patriarchy still rules with an iron fist.
With miners hooning in the darkness outside like a pack of dogs baying to get in, it’s the perfect lawless desert setting for Bernarda Alba to enforce her domestic tyranny with manipulation – both physical and emotional. With the her mining-mogul husband dead, it’s time to reassert her power over her four squabbling daughters who are to be kept in an imprisoned, enforced state of mourning in the house for 8 weeks without phones or internet.
Julie Forsyth really steals the show as the sassy, wizened housekeeper who can tell a yarn like no other and yearn as much for a sausage as she can for the memory of her ex husband before he wronged her. Without any men in the cast their effects are only felt in the wounds that they leave behind. Candy Bowers and Bessie Holland are also stand-outs as the foul-mouthed bolshy sisters, with a sparkling comic timing that commands the stage.
With its fluttering, monotonous ceiling fans casting spooky shadows, blue, buzzing insect-repellent lights and dust-covered floor tiles, Marg Horwell’s set design perfectly captures an isolated West Australian household.
Lorca could only be proud to see the freshness a cast of fearsome Aussie women had breathed into his tale almost a century later, keeping his legacy alive.
Melbourne Theatre Company presents
The House of Bernarda Alba
by Patricia Cornelius
Director Leticia Caceres
Venue: Arts Centre Melbourne | St Kilda Rd, Melbourne
Dates: 25 May – 7 July 2018
Bookings: 03 8688 0800 | mtc.com.au