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Leigh Hatts

The House of Bernarda Alba at the National Theatre

When the House of Bernarda Alba was performed at the Young Vic in 1999 it was during a June heatwave reflecting the unbearable temperature referred to in Federico García Lorca's play.

The new production at the nearby National Theatre has a magical set which, although the NT is always cool, manages to suggest a hot climate even before words are spoken. The action takes place around the courtyard of a house in southern Spain where five grown up sisters live with their very difficult recently widowed mother.

Penelope Wilton is perfectly cast in the lead role as the Spanish mother maintaining standards, opposing change and avoiding the neighbours.

Sally Hawkins as Adela and Jo McInnes as Martirio slowly emerge as central strong characters. Long silences appear to have been eliminated during rehearsals and previews making this English version by David Hare feel fast moving. The family tensions are occasionally, but not too often, broken by humour.

This play is based on a real household secretly observed by Lorca and turned into a drama just before his death in the year when the Spanish Civil War changed Spain.

Lorca's closest friend was Salvador Dali who has a gallery named after him in County Hall and so for a season both have their names in lights on the South Bank. But a visit to the House of Bernarda Alaba will be the more rewarding.

• The House of Bernarda Alba is at the National Theatre until Saturday 18 June.

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