Jake is a second year student studying Spanish at Exeter College. We met at the very sociable hour of 8 o’clock at Exeter for breakfast. The House of Bernarda Alba, (La Casa de Bernarda Alba in Spanish) is a play by Federico García Lorca, one of Spain’s most famous modern playwrights. It will be performed in The Cellar in 5th week. This year marks the 80th anniversary of Lorca’s death and has seen an upsurge in interest in the dramatist here in England, with upcoming performances at the Young Vic, in Spain and beyond. The House of Bernarda Alba tells the story of Bernarda, a tyrannical mother and the emotional abuse and domination that she puts her daughters through.
I began by asking Jake about his motivations for translating La Casa de Bernarda Alba. He told me that it had taken him about two years, from his arrival at Oxford to now. It primarily began as an academic exercise. Languages students may recognise the frustration of learning the discipline of translation without any real context. We learn to translate short excerpts, which is an experience divorced from that of professional translators who work on large projects over time. Jake also stressed the popularity of the play, and the accessibility of its content as other motivations, which would be recurring themes in our discussion.
Lorca is famed for his perceptive and effective use of imagery. Interestingly, the playwright uses language economically, and so is able to use relatively few words to creating a great depth of emotion and tension. Jake cited this as a particular challenge in his translation and stressed that his rendering is still a work in progress. He worked on the finer points for three weeks on holiday in France with his mum, and has continued working on the script with the cast who continue to flag up areas that don’t sound natural when performed.
Next, I asked about the choice of venue. La Casa de Bernarda Alba is on in 5th week in The Cellar. The title of the play ‘The House of Bernarda Alba’ clearly highlights the importance of space to the play. The stage directions throughout give a very clear indication of how Lorca imagined the performance space and setting to be. The thick, whitewashed walls of Bernarda’s house are emphasised throughout. The setting is clearly the opposite of The Cellar, Oxford’s favourite indie music haunt. However, Jake stressed that Cellar is capable of a creating an oppressive atmosphere and so although the colours and the emphasis on hygiene are inverted, the venue is very capable of highlighting the imprisonment of Bernarda’s daughters and their oppression.
Finally, we discussed the relevance of the play to modern audiences. Jake was quick to point out the timing of his play, it is the 80th anniversary of Lorca’s death this year. He felt that as The House of Bernarda Alba was Lorca’s most studied play, it was the most appealing and accessible choice as a greater number of students may have encountered it. The play is also, fundamentally a play about women, and has an all female cast, which adds diversity to the typical Oxford theatregoer’s palette.
Buy Tickets for The House of Bernarda Alba here. The play will be performed in The Cellar from the 23rd-25th of May.