Director John Tiffany brings us Rona Munro’s adaptation of Federico Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba. The show is about the iron fisted Bernarda (Siobhan Redmond) who’s husband is press ganged. She then holds her daughters captive in the house. Originally set in Spain and representing the Franco oppression, Munro moves it to contemporary Glasgow. Louise Ludgate who plays the mentally unstable Marty talks about the journey, the women and the meanings behind the production as it nears the end of its tour.
AB: It’s quite a long run isn’t it?
LL: Yeah it is, and god it’s bloody hard work, it’s fantastic but I’ve got to do some quite emotional stuff.
AB: What’s the dynamic like working with an all female cast compared to working with both men and women?
LL: Well, I think this is actually probably the happiest company I’ve ever worked for…ever. Before I started work on it everyone I told I was doing a play with twelve women said ‘oh they’ll be a lot of bitching’ but there’s just not at all. Everyone gets on so well. When there’s guys in the cast I suppose there is a different atmosphere in there rehearsal room and I suppose we are just much more relaxed, we’re all chatting away and it’s just been such good, creative and supportive atmosphere.
I’m kind of a manic style of actor, I go on instinct
AB: Do you think there’s a bit of an oestrogen overload for John?
LL: Oh no, he absolutely loves it, he’s really enjoying the rehearsal period as well and keeps saying he just wants to work with women from now on. It’s such a difference from Blackwatch which is so testosterone filled, he’s just one of the girls really.
AB: With such an emotional role, what processes did you have to go through to prepare yourself for the role?
LL: Well, I read the play and the original to see how it compared to ours. I’m kind of a manic style of actor, I don’t do method stuff, I go on what’s written down and a lot of instinct. But because I’ve got such a great journey throughout it, by the end she’s going totally mental and sobbing, so it’s quite good to have that build up with hints of nuttiness or anger and then a big explosion at the end.
AB: So the piece was originally aimed at Franco’s oppression and was obviously one of the factors that led to Lorca’s execution, I was wondering what contemporary issues you feel this version is addressing?
LL: I think it’s just about being trapped, about people being trapped. It’s more about the relationships within the family and how you can be oppressed within a family situation as well and the pain of that. So I don’t think she’s gone for any updating in that way, other people might think differently but I look at it more in terms of the relationships.
…women talk a lot of shite
AB: So, do you think that the original politics of the play are maintained or is it working more as a lighter interpretation of the piece?
LL: I don’t think it’s a lighter version, it’s very harrowing as well. There’s comedy elements in it, it would be unrealistic if it was heavy and intense all the time. Because of the funnier bits in it, the tragedy is clearer at the end. I think if Lorca was writing the play now, this is the kind of thing he would’ve written, because its adventurous and up to date and creating a bit of a stir. I think if we were doing a version where we were pretending to be locked up in a house in Spain, it wouldn’t work.
AB: Moving it from Spain to Glasgow is an interesting point, do you think there are any similarities there about what women are going through?
LL: Well I was talking to Sibhoin (Bernarda) about this, it’s that self-dramatisation of the Glaswegian, we’re always performing, we have strong personalities, so in that way I think it is quite similar, of course we don’t have any heat in Glasgow so being oppressed by the rain was a good idea.
AB: What do you think the piece is saying about the role of women in 21st century Britain?
LL: Well Bernarda herself is really strong, not really a role model as she’s an evil bitch as well, but she’s very controlling like a mother figure often has. Obviously that matriarchal thing has been around for years and years and that hasn’t changed much…I’m talking shite now…women talk a lot of shite…no, it’s really great you get a play like this where you have such strong roles for women at the moment.
I don’t think we’ve done a bad performance
AB: Yeah, it’s interesting at the moment we’re getting a lot of plays featuring women as the protagonist like The Steamie where it’s about women being together and the man is almost the object…
LL: It’s great, it’s absolutely fantastic but I’m sure that’ll all change by next year and we’ll all be unemployed again. But like The Last Witch on during the Festival had great female roles. The humour and sensitivity you get and the real hard edge in all the women. It’s great not playing the daughter or the girlfriend and all the women are really strong. We really do feel like sisters now.
AB: Do you think this piece is working with symbols like Lorca’s original?
LL: Yeah, there’s lots of bird imagery and then of course a real pigeon as well which was a lamb in the original. I think that’s the strongest symbol is that of flight and having your wings clipped.
AB: What about Marty?
LL: I think Marty is so complicated. She has a struggle with mental health and with the environment makes it very interesting to play and it’s such a common think now, one in three people suffer from depression. She tried to get away but the mother drags her back and the power of the mother is very pertinent.
AB: Any particular performances that stand out as good or bad at all?
LL: Yeah, it was shite the other night. No, I don’t think we’ve done a bad performance, or at least we don’t think so, you know sometimes you know when you’ve done a bad one? The audience reactions have been so different, sometimes its laugh out loud but sometimes people are listening more. But we’re getting loads of positive feedback.
AB: What’s your favourite part of the show?
LL: Probably the last scene with Adie when I discover she’s running away, it’s a big emotional one so it’s hard work but very satisfying to do it. Although, it’s weird as well because nothing really gets resolved for my character so I don’t really get that big cathartic moment after you finished the play. I love all the stuff with the sisters really, it’s an absolute joy.
Venue: King’s Theatre, Edinburgh
Dates and times: 3 to 7 November at 7.30pm and 2.30pm matinee
Tickets: £12.50 to £25 (concessions available)
Box Office: 0131 529 6000
Online booking: http://www.eft.co.uk/
Accessible Perfs: 5 Nov Captioned Performance, 6 Nov Touch Tour at 6.30pm and Audio Described and Signed Performance