Steven Dykes’ scorchingly brutal reworking of Frederick Garcia Lorca’s La Casa De Bernarda Alba is no slight undertaking for any company. It requires a depth of understanding, brilliant casting, an uncluttered and spartan staging and a cast of actors capable of becoming sisters. Director Conor Baum, already known in Brighton for his excellent directorial skills, simply nails this.

Lilian Beckman and her five daughters have returned from the funeral of their father to discover that their mother is imposing a new level of austerity and mourning to their lives, a severity that sits somewhat uncomfortably with each child for many different reasons. And so the story opens as gradually each daughter exposes or is exposed.

It’s a dark tale of familial angst, envy, love, lust and bitter rivalry, of love and of sexual awakening. Lilian is hell bound on ruling her rural roost with a firm and cruel hand. She is damaged goods and as the play unfolds we are shown just why. Their are threads of abuse, of compassion, of deceit and revenge, none of which are drawn with a crude hand but with real finesse. This must be credited to deft direction but equally to fine playing.

Deborah Kearne is terrifyingly harsh as Lilian, a severity that chills, ice cold, unswerving and darker than dark. In contrast Birdie McLean, played by Sharon Drain is perhaps her only friend, gentle in some respects but also tough. She displays a level of love for the daughters that is otherwise missing in their lives. It’s a beautifully realised performance in every sense.

Madeleine Schofield is a wonderfully reserved Agnes, oblivious to the real machinations of her suitor or of her sister’s deceit. Rachel Mullock, Ava Gypsy, Lexi Pickett and Roisin Wilde play her siblings so so well. Fragility, anger, vulnerability, jealousy… they all manifest themselves as the story widens and in turn each daughter finds her own rebellion. And lurking throughout is Clarice Bledsoe who’s own truth is at the heart of Lilian’s anger rather than grief at the loss of her husband. Rosanna Bini captures the character with real skill.

Two beautifully realised songs, arranged by Temisis Conway and Martha Pavelich open both halves, finely crafted renderings of a rural American religious musical genre, it has a raw simplicity on one level and complexity on another and they are delivered by the cast with a purity not borne of musical theatre.

BOAT is not a simple space on which to stage a play but the creative team behind Homestead have done this beautifully, no set as such, just an elegant table and chairs befitting of a wealthy farming family, a stool and one rustic wooden chair, serve to create the Beckman home, simple black mourning clothes gradually give way to simple period dress into which an element of elegant finery is revealed in advance of the forthcoming nuptials. It’s strikingly simple and equally effective.

Conor Baum has crafted as fine a piece of theatre as you are likely to find this festival, he has found a cast of great actors, reared them to present as truly believable sisters in this dark and bitter tale.

Andrew Kay

20 May

Brighton Open Air Theatre


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