THEATRE / The caged birds sing: Rhoda Koenig on Lorca's Spanish family tragedy: The House of Bernarda Alba - The Gate, Pembridge Rd, London W11

TRAPPED rats, says Lorca, don't gnaw their bars through but turn and rend each other. The daughters of Bernarda Alba, impressed into a death-in-life mourning, listen to their housekeeper explain how she managed her late husband, who filled their house with the canaries he loved. 'Once he muttered something at me,' she says. 'So I went and killed all his canaries.' The girls gasp, then twitter with delight.

British playwrights may have portrayed their country as a drifting ship, a tatty pier show, or a broken-down hospital, but, for Federico Garcia Lorca, Spain was a coffin, from which one could hear intermittent thrashing and whimpers. In The House of Bernarda Alba, he put on stage the society that would destroy him and tear itself apart. (One month after he finished it, in 1936, the civil war broke out; a month later he was shot by the Falangists.)

Shrouded in black for a father who reserved his only affection for the maid, the four younger Alba daughters take every opportunity to remind Angustias, the eldest, that the dashing Pepe el Romano is marrying her only for her money. Adela, less than half Angustias's age, dares to challenge the life sentence of perpetual virginity and embroidery to which they have been condemned by Bernarda, who brandishes in one hand a Bible and, in the other, a whip. Yet her plan of being Pepe's lover after he marries, waiting for him in a secluded cottage, means only a more private prison and a different master. The other girls, devoid of even that hope, jeer at the few who try, and fail, to break away. When an unwed mother kills her baby, they rush to watch her being dragged off and tortured, shouting excitedly 'Viva la muerte]'

The tiny Gate Theatre may fulfil all too well Bernarda's pronouncement that, for eight years after her husband's death, 'not a breath of fresh air from the street will come into this house'. But Katie Mitchell's well-knit production for Classics on a Shoestring uses the limited space to convey a mood of intensity and repression far more successfully than did the Glenda Jackson-Joan Plowright version a few years ago. Striking rigid poses at a table topped by a dish of pomegranates, or bursting into brief, tense dances that owe as much to hysteria as to flamenco, Bernarda's daughters have been driven nearly mad by confinement. Their future is prefigured by Bernarda's mother, who scandalises her grandchildren with the force of her unvanquished desires: 'I want a young man', she wails, 'to marry me and make me happy.' Deidre Doone, glowing with an eerie, silvery femininity, beautifully expresses both the vulnerability and reproachfulness of the insane. In an excellent cast, Susan Brown's tough but pitying housekeeper and Jill Brassington's awkward, desperate Angustias are even better. Dinah Stabb's Bernarda, though, is a rather inhuman tyrant, lashing out too mechanically at her charges for us to see that she, too, is a victim of an order that, in the name of propriety, starves and cripples its young.

To 14 Nov, The Gate, Pembridge Rd, London W11 (071-229 0706)

Arts and Entertainment
Loading individual letters on to an original Heidelberg printing press
books
Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'