"Better never to lay eyes on a man, never to have seen one. Ever since I was a child, I've been frightened: the look of men, yoking up the oxen, picking up sacks of wheat, calling to each other, their thick voices, their thick boots. Every time I passed, fear of their hands, of their touch. God made me weak and ugly. It's his way of keeping them away."
After a lovely dinner on Friday night -- of smoked sausages, black beans and rice, plus chicken in tomato and red pepper sauce with rice -- sheltering from a torrential downpour at Canela in Covent Garden, we walked across the River Thames' roiling currents to the National Theatre to see David Hare's adaptation of Federico García Lorca's vivid and claustrophobic The House of Bernarda Alba.
The play is set under the oppressive shadow of Catholic morality and against the backdrop of the stifling rise of Franco's fascism in Spain in 1936. It focusses on the tortured relationships within an all-female household, between the newly-widowed and monstrous matriarch Bernarda Alba ("a twisted old gecko" whose housekeeper would "happily thread hot needles through her eyeballs with my own hand"), her two female servants and her five unmarried daughters: unattractive Angustias, assertive Magdalena, bookish Amelia, resentful Martirio, and flighty Adela. Each daughter is a prisoner of her own repressed sexual urges, fighting for the attentions of an unseen Pepe el Romano -- seemingly the only marriageable man in town -- whose masculine presence is the only means of quenching, in Adela's words, the "fire coursing through my legs".
Repressed love, thwarted passion, desperate yearning, torrid melodrama: my kind of soap opera, though the last third dragged a little as I got tired of the daughters' relentless histrionics and hysteria. My favourite characters by far were the decisive Bernarda and the forthright housekeeper.
I enjoy the theatre and should go more often. I really love Peter O'Toole's description of theatre as a living, ephemeral thing:
"Oh, it's painful seeing it all there on the [movie] screen, solidified, embalmed. Once a thing is solidified it stops being a living thing. That's why I love the theatre. It's the Art of the Moment. I'm in love with ephemera and I hate permanence. It's more than behaviorism, which is what you get in the movies... Chrissake, what are movies anyway? Just fucking moving photographs, that's all. But the theatre! Ah, there you have the impermanence that I love. It's a reflection of life somehow. It's...it's...like building a statue of snow...."
Other links today:
+ BBC's Beethoven Experience. All 9 symphonies for download in MP3 format from Monday 6 June.
+ New Scientist's 11 steps to a better brain. All to do with eating Marmite on toast for breakfast and omelette and salad for lunch, getting enough sleep and positive thinking, apparently. Curiously bland article lacking in any concrete science.
+ The well-read life. "Never force yourself to read a book that you do not enjoy. There are so many good books in the world that it is foolish to waste time on one that does not give you pleasure and profit." The more books you discard half-finished, the more you will read fully.