Eight women’s voices fill the haunting space, absorbing the silence in a stirring, expressive song and hurling the death of the father/husband onto the audience, as we watch the time and tension of mourning begin. Lorca’s La Casa de Bernada Alba is taken away from the small village of Spain to north west Texas in 1956. The tragedy and strain in the household is no less domineering though, as Steven Dyke’s Homestead engrosses us in the isolation and maddening actions in the mourning domestic home.
We begin after the funeral where Lillian, played by the powerful Rebecca Pollock, takes control of the house, and where we first acknowledge the brutality of her power over her daughters. Amy Lynn, Agnes, Adele, Mara Lee and Mary Beth all display their fear towards Lillian – a fear that will stop them from doing anything outside the realms of what their mother allows them, as the fear of abuse reigns over them. Throughout the play we see the authoritarian household battle over the love of Antonio that eventually brings them to ruin.
The prominence of religion is essential to this play. Lillian’s rules come from God and are enforced by the Texan archetype, making her all the more intimidating. Part of the terror and tension arises from the importance of abstinence, while each of the daughters fantasises about Antonio who will come to whisk them away like a knight in shining armour. The daughters recite prayers their mother has taught them and ironically disobey everything they say. At moments it seems that it is not Lillian there to overpower, but it is religion.
Steven Dykes’s direction encapsulates the importance of this play. The juxtaposition between the comedy and childishness of the daughters, and the impending and foreboding religious ideas, creates a forceful atmosphere highlighting the jealousy and desire that exists in the bodies of the domestic home. What makes Lorca’s work and this adaptation so familiar is the relationship between the siblings. The endless bickering and raging jealousy seem all too recognisable, but with a clear tenderness towards each other, the outcome of the play is even more devastating that we can imagine. Dykes’s cast work well to capture the relationship of these imprisoned siblings. Roisin Brehony and Georgia Maskery, as Amy Lynn and Mary Beth, each independently dream of escape in their own way, one through innocence and another through knowledge. Abigail Castleton plays the snobbish and unknowingly immature Agnes, the good girl of the group who is the only one that I feel there is no future for other than marrying a husband. Katie Glaister and Isobella Hubbard stand out as the juxtaposing Adele and Mara Lee. From Glaister’s domineering and rebellious presence to the secrecy of Hubbard, this twosome creates an intense and interesting final scene. Lolade Rufai and Sophie Doherty are not to be forgotten as Clarice and Birdie though – two star figures. They round up everything Lillian is missing as a mother and provide a sense of home and comfort to the experience of turmoil.
The production lacks one thing: the feeling of intense isolation that the tyrannical Lillan holds over her daughters, despite an appropriate and useful design by April Jacobs and lighting by Lizzy Gunby. Without this pressurising feeling some of the actions seem less justified as an audience member. We know that they are secluded and we understand the battling between each other is the outcome, but it is not inflicted on us in a way that it remains in our consciousness throughout – something that I feel is essential to Lorca’s work and that needs to be added to this regeneration.
Despite this minor downfall, this play has everything going for it. The additional prominence of women’s rights and the idea that women should be a domestic goddess rather than anything else rings true in a modern day society, especially when the significance of equality and feminism is at the forefront of our minds. It is a renewed look at how far we have come, but how far we still have to go.
Homestead would do Lorca proud and is a primary example of how the classics are not lost in their era forever. The research and exactness of this production helps it come alive and redefine the tragedy of La Casa de Bernada Alba.
Homestead is playing at the Tristan Bates Theatre until 9 January. For more information and tickets, see the Tristan Bates Theatre website. Photo: Old Sole Theatre