Weddings and funerals are Lx)rca‘s tragic domain. Social upheavals which crack the crust of normal behaviour provide him with a channel for his impassioned outpourings. histrm-hot-to-touch paintings of Spanish society. The political temperature ran high in 193(ls‘ Spain. and Lorca‘s feverish enthusiasm for theatre as a medium for free speech led to his untimely death. Weeks before his execution by the Nationalists. he completed The House of BernardaAIba.
The death ofa father begins the all-female play. shifting the pressures on the family of women who remain and precipitating the violence which rumbles beneath the dialogue and tears through the final act. Ten women will hold the stage in the Lyceum production ofJohn Clifford‘s new translation. but it is male authority. male-dominated society. which is on trial: ‘We don‘t even own our own eyes‘. exclaims one ofthe ten.
Kitth out in a rag-bag of rehearsal clothes. flopped in armchairs after
22 The List 7 — 20 April 198‘)
a tough week under lan Wooldridge‘s direction. six of the cast discuss the experience of working within a female group. There aren‘t many plays. nor indeed social situations. which will generate a group often women. How does Lorca‘s picture of hostility. jealousy and competitiveness compare with the real experience?
Male authority. in the absence ofdirector. translator and playwright. is marginalised: ‘A theatre company usually becomes some sort of family.‘ says Souad Faress. who plays La Poncia. ‘but there‘s no father-ﬁgure here. maybe more like a couple ofsmall brothers.‘ Laughter. There is a relaxed. friendly atmosphere. something the actresses themselves recognise: ‘It‘s a very unthreatening situation. Nobody is frightened about saying anything and being squashed.‘ say Jennie Stoller (Bernarda). ‘It needed to be relaxed. it‘s such a tense play.‘ points out Sharon Maharaj (Amelia).
The traditional female roles of nurturing and
THE HOUSE OF BERNARDA
caring are absent from Lorca‘s harsh vision. but. say the cast. they have
been central to the rehearsal process. In varying degrees. they attribute this to the female majority: ‘The two men have been supportive and adaptive and instructive‘; ‘They have bowed to our female opinion about this female play‘; ‘But any good director of any play should do that‘; ‘We‘ve presented a united front. Ten to one: it‘s a perfect balance.‘
They have nothing but admiration for Lorca. and while disparaging male unwillingness to express emotion. (‘How many male actors do you know who would cry on stage?‘) the actresses agree that as a gay man Lorca is more open: ‘He has more respect for women‘s problems. which are everybody‘s problems if only men would admit it.‘ storms Angela Chadfield (Angustias). During rehearsal. says Sharon Maharaj. they have moved from considering the ‘womanly aspect‘ of the play to seeing its more general messages: ‘There is a sense ofancient morals and traditions and
a code of behaviour which are still going on in Spain todayf
The production is ‘tryingto go for something that isn‘t British‘: ‘I feel very strongly that it isa political play‘. says Jennie Stoller. ‘it‘s about Fascism.‘ Bernarda. the tyrannical mother who makes whith sepulchres of her daughters‘ souls. is. she says. effectively a man. ‘but I‘m tryingto make her realistic. She‘s a product of that society and is trapped by it. She‘s not a monster. she‘s a product of patriarchy.‘ (Julie Morrice) The H (nae of Bernarda Alba: Lyceum Theatre.
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PAUL DARROW ‘Mmm. Charlies Jeffries is a bit like Avon.‘ muses Paul Darrow abut his latest role. The ex-Blake's Seven actor. currently appearing in the thriller Alibifor Murder at Glasgow‘s New Athenaeum Theatre. is refreshingly unrufﬂed by the notion of type-casting. ‘When you play a part as impressive as Avon there is bound to be an element ofit. but then last year] played Elvis Presley.‘ It is true. Darrow‘s performance in Alan Bleasdale‘sAre You Lonesome Tonight? would seem to be about as far away as you could get from science fiction. ‘Except.‘ Darrow suggests mischievously. ‘there was an element ofElvis Presley in Avon — the leather and all that.‘
His enthusiasm for the BBC series comes perhaps from the knowledge that Avon was at least partly his own invention. ‘He was a realist. He did what he needed to do. I tried to think what I would doin the situation and I thought if there was somebody out to get him. he would get there first. People used to say to me that he was a chauvinist. Not at all. he treated women equally; he‘d shoot a woman as he‘d shoot a man.‘
In the same way he says ofAlibifor Murder: ‘It is Frank Williams‘ play. but I‘ve been allowed to create a character. . . Jeffries runs the gamut. He has humour but there is something slightly strange about him. He also quotes from the Scottish play. Macbeth — so there‘s a hint ofthat.‘
A l95()s‘ house-party in a Sussex village sounds a predictable setting for a murder. but Darrow sees something special in exactly how this plot twists. ‘The cleverness of the piece is that it is mainly about the alibi. There are a lot of holes there and the audience
sees them. They think they‘e got him. Then he gets out of it. He wriggles like an eel throughout.‘ Off-stage Darrow is charming. but pleasantly unslippery. He is uncertain about his next projects except to express cautious optimism about a pilot he has made for Thames TV called Making News. in which he plays an arrogant news presenter. For ‘relaxation‘ he turns
of his own in embryo stages. Then there is
i always Avon. Darrow has
recently returned from
Blake '5 Seven conventions
in Australia and New Zealand. and has also written a novel calledA Terrible Aspect about the childhood of Avon. Published in hardback at Christmas in the States and possibly over here later this year. its success has encouraged him to work on the idea ofa sequel — what happened to Avon after the crew broke up. One of the few characters to survive in the series. it seemsthe anti-hero still refuses to die. But Darrow denies that there are any real similarities between Avon and himself. ‘Not at all— l‘m a pussy-cat .‘ he purrs.
John McKenzie is blessed
with perseverance. He has
i had to be whenit‘staken himanythinguptoeleven
years to get a novel
publishedllis‘new‘play « forthe MandelaTheatre Companyhasbeen
around in one form or another since 1981. Aside
: from the effort ofsimply
keeping interested. this
sort of wait can make a
nonsense of a topical play. So it is fortunate that the climate is still right for Busted. a savage comedy based on the druglaws.
‘It was particularly relevant that I should rewrite it.‘ says McKenzie. ‘There were horror stories all over the newspapers about the sentencing policy in Edinburgh. People were going to gaol for minimal amounts ofcannabis because the smack scare was on. And the play will be relevant as long asthe Dangerous Drugs Act includes things like cannabis resin.‘
The production which is just setting out on tour is the ﬁrst we have heard from the Mandela Theatre Company since they lost their home base at Sarah and Jimmy Boyle‘s Gateway Exchange last year. Having heard nothing back from any of the 13 theatres to whom he originally sent the play. McKenzie's one last attempt was to make contact with Jimmy
Boyle. The meeting proved fruitful and eventually the theatre company expressed its desire to stage the play. So at last McKenzie is able to follow up the success of his several radio plays with his first stage production.
His writing career started after leaving university in 1973 with a degree in History. Wary of the education system‘s threat to his working class roots. McKenzie was anxious not to fall intothe career-based economic system. ‘I thought. I know lcan‘t paint. my sense of pitch is useless. what else can I do'?‘ Writing seemed the obvious. ifnot altogether easy choice. ‘I was working eight hours a day. I look at it as ifyou were a joiner. To be a joiner it used to take you ﬁve years. So after ﬁve years you might know how to write.‘
After several years working away at novels coupled with spells working in a children‘s library. McKenzie began toying with the idea ofa stage play. ‘1 was staying in a big mixed house and one of the people was a girl from Leeds. A friend of hers was a psychiatric nurse who got searched outside a party by two constables who found a bit of dope on him. It was quite tragic. because he had access to dangerous drugs which he was very responsible about. He was a good nurse. About a year later he was sacked.‘ McKenzie talked to the nurse and had a long chat with the lawyer about similar cases and so began work on Busted. ‘I thought the best way to do it was to make it a comedy. That‘s the sort of play I‘d like to go and see. It‘s a naive kind ofa play, but it is veryfunny‘.
So after various revisions and a couple of readings at the Edinburgh Playwright‘s Workshop (where McKenzie claims the audience were falling off their seats). Busted is finally ready to see the light of day. A tale of injustice and hypocrisy, it is both sad and funny. ‘It‘s a situation comedy.‘ says McKenzie. ‘It doesn't really preach. It‘s just asking for a bitof sympathy and compassion.‘ (Mark Fisher)
Monstrous Regiment were formed in 1976 with the intention of. as founder member Mary McCusker says. ‘ﬁnding ways of putting the female experience centre-stage‘. The company's latest play is a one-woman show. ‘Beatrice‘, which is to