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Timeless tale of tyrannical mother has been reworked and transported to Iran

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Federico Garcia Lorca’s infamous tale of a tyrannical matriarch has been reworked and set in rural Iran. Yet The House of Bernarda Alba is so timeless, adaptor Emily Mann could very well have translated this Spanish play from the 1930s into any age or setting.

We first meet the play’s namesake on the day of her husband’s funeral – her formidable presence on stage unmistakable despite being dressed in the same black mourning attire as a crowd of other women.

Bernarda Alba, who rules over her household and her five unmarried daughters with a totalitarian hand and a watchful eye, is played with searing intensity by Shohreh Aghdashloo. Her frail frame and syrupy smooth voice belie the evil she creates and thrives on.

Bernarda subjects her imprisoned girls to daily mental and physical tortures and refuses to allow them to marry, on the dubious basis that there is no suitor of their social stature within 100 miles.

The inevitable sisterly conflicts between the all-female cast and their quick fire dialogue would not seem out of place in a Jane Austen novel. But this is no Pride and Prejudice and there is no happy ending.

At first these spats are almost comforting to watch and there are moments of comedy, but in reality it is a bleak warning of what can happen under intense family pressure.

* The House of Bernarda Alba is at the Almeida Theatre in Almeida Street, N1, until Saturday March 10, 2012.

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