Waterford Dramatic Society had a very successful run at Garter Lane with the all-female cast Lorca play, The House Of Bernarda Alba, last week. In choosing this classic Spanish work about a monstrous mother who dominates a household and five daughters with repression, social status and money, they fulfilled a long-term goal of doing an all-woman play. The eight-person committee has only one (token?) male, Tobie Hickey and he was selling programmes the night I was there.
While Amelia Clancy’s direction managed to make some aspects of the work relevant to a contemporary audience and there was a smattering of knowing laughter, the style of direction was loose and the casting of some roles was questionable. It is often a problem with amateur availability that more powerful actors/actresses end up playing minor roles and the balance goes awry.
For me, too much of the pivotal action happens offstage and needs a more stylised or physical theatre approach. Cast mimed eating soup yet had red wine in tumblers. Dialogue referred to laced footwear yet the shoes were a touch too modern. Embroidery and lacework seemed incidental like casts in Irish plays washing a few cups in a basin. Too often we got delivery of lines and little internalising in a play that is so internalised – like a pressure cooker of repression and disappointment. Set and lighting did not advance the author’s intentions either.
Peggy McCarthy was a younger looking bernarda than I expected but she carried the monstrous intent well up to the almost impossible ending. Anne Hickey was a spot-on gossipy Maid, Denise Quinn was splendid as the housekeeper and confidante Poncia and you knew she knew her place as Bernarda kept reminding her. Frieda Ryan was a musichall turn as the scatty auld wan, Maria Josefa and we got fun rather than pathos.
Ciara O’Connor impressed as the wayward and sexualised Adela who almost got away from the oppressive House. Caitriona Ni Mhaidin had fine flashes of love and bitterness as Martitio.
Shauna Farrell, Jenny Leacy, Cathy McGuigan, Emma Kirwan and Catherine Bradley played other parts.