A classic tale presented with a twist, the Almedia’s new interpretation of Federico García Lorca’s ‘The House of Bernarda Alba’ offers an engaging glimpse into the oppression of modern-day Iranians while sticking to its Spanish roots. It’s a delicate balance to strike, but replacing mourning gowns with hijabs and Andalucía with rural Iran effectively updates the story of a tyrannical mother oppressing her daughters.
Shohreh Aghdashloo, cast as the dictator Bernarda, handles the difficult role brilliantly by playing her as a stoical matriarch whose silence invokes more fear than any amount of shouting could. Her performance supported by those of the five daughters, Aghdashloo commands the stage and demands the audience’s attention. The melancholy music adds an eerie authenticity to the play, and makes it even more chilling. I found myself squirming in my seat during some of the more unsavoury parts, but I still couldn’t look away.
While the director has balanced the Iranian and Spanish influences well, I often found it difficult to distinguish one actress from another due to the all-enveloping hijabs. As the play progressed, it grew easier to tell them apart, but it was a distracting mistake to begin the play with so little distinction between the main characters.
Still, the Iranian setting does give the play an acute sense of relevance, and makes the experience a moving and thought-provoking snapshot of the positions and experiences of women in the Middle East. The subject matter may be startling, but the play captured my attention: from the ‘dashti’ mustic to the Islamic prayers, being transported to Iran for the evening is well worth the admission price.