Plays: Light and Shade: Sweet Charity and The House of Bernarda Alba

My last two visits to The Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, were so contrasting that I decided to put them together into one post: Light and Shade. 

                         Sweet Charity

Book by Neil Simon, Music by Cy Coleman, 
Lyrics by Dorothy Fields

Performed at The Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester and directed by Derek Bond.

    This was a bright, vibrant visit to this Theatre space. The revival of the 1930's Broadway musical zinged with life as the cast took us along with them. Kaisa Hammarlund as Charity Hope Valentine was funny and vulnerable, broken then strong, all at the same time, The bitter sweet nature of her life touched you whilst at the same time, you laughed along with her, admiring her optimism yet waiting for the inevitable 'Ah but... ' moment.

    For me, the production came alive straight from the off, and there was a clever use of lighting to evoke the American setting. Charity Hope Valentine is a girl on the lookout for love who thinks she may just have found it in the straight as a die, accountant, Oscar. Her days are spent at the seedy dancehall, dancing with men for money, but she dreams of being taken away to suburban bliss.('There's gotta be something better than this...')

    Ful of well-known classic songs and evoking the original Bob Fosse choreography, this production hit just the right note for me. The orchestra sounded fantastic. It really did reflect 'The Rhythm of Life'.

                            The House of Bernard Alba 
                 by Frederico Garcia Lorca, translated by Jo Clifford

Performed at The Royal Exchange Theatre Manchester and directed by Jenny Sealey.

 I can honestly say I have never seen anything quite like this play which is a co-production with the Graeae Theatre Company whose mission is to put disabled actors at the centre of theatre projects. You can find out more about their work here. 

    It is an all- female production (both in terms of actors and creatives) and aims to make every performance accessible to everybody. British Sign Language (BSL), Audio Description (paraphrasing by the actors) and the use of captions are all used throughout. I realised that there was alot to be learnt about the background to this project and decided to buy a programme during the interval to see if it could cast any light. I was not alone. There I learnt about the distinction between those who identify themselves as 'deaf' who generally use oral communication but not signing and those who identify as 'Deaf' i.e. culturally deaf who use British Sign Language. Indeed there were actors from both categories. There was certainly a rich seam of communication methods woven throughout this play. 

    Kathryn Hunter took the lead as the formidable Bernarda Alba who rules her household of daughters and female servants with an iron will. The play begins with the death of her husband, Antonio Maria Benavides. She informs her young daughters, who are all shrouded in black that they are to have an eight year mourning period. The set is as simple and stark as their lives. Written in the 1930's in fascist-led Spain, much is implied about oppression and the use of power. Bernard Alba's regime is suffocating. The women's wishes are repressed as they are told how young ladies of their class are expected to behave. However, Bernara Alba's domination cannot extend to their inner thoughts and you see how some of them try to exert a little free will.  

    It certainly was not a comfortable play to watch and I did feel that the impetus in the dialogue was hampered for me. At times, I was too distracted by watching the mechanics of communication at work. 


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