Gus in London: Yerma
@Young Vic Theatre
Those who go to see Simon Stone’s new adaptation of Federico Garcia Lorca’s Yerma may feel that they have walked into a completely different play altogether. There’s very little from the original that remains in this version, other than the longing for a woman to bear children and the lengths to which she will go in order to attain this marker of her purported femininity. This doesn’t mean, however, that the play goes without its merits; and merits it has a plenty.
For those who don’t necessarily know the original text this could easily be one of the best plays currently in the West End and, easily, one of the best plays so far this year. As a member of the audience one gets the essence of the play from the outset, even before the actors appear on stage. The audience is confronted with what appears to be a mirror that covers the whole length of the stage so one can’t fail but to have a good look at his/her own image before the play ever begins. Once the play starts, the audience quickly notice that the whole action develops in a glass cage – a very clever idea by design director Lizzy Clachan- that both constraints the character’s actions, but that also cleverly reminds the audience of how much society’s expectations on women’s bodies and their duty to procreate become markers of a woman’s sense of wholeness. Furthermore, this glass-cage-turned-stages will remain for the most part devoid from any props or elements of mise-en-scene which will further highlight the fact that Yerma, the protagonist of the story, remains barren by her inability to procreate.
However, the play quite rightly revolves around the female protagonist and, it must be said that casting Billie Piper was a masterstroke. Having never seen her on-stage before, it becomes clear very quickly that her interpretation and character development throughout the play is simply magnificent. The way in which she transforms herself from a rather bubbly and loving wife (although marriage only occurs half way through the play) into a desperate and nearly psychotic woman by the end, really shows Piper’s ability to channel the despair of the character. However, as a person very much familiar with the original text, the way it vindicates John (a great performance by Brendan Cowell) makes one feel that, in the end, Yerma almost deserves to remain “barren” because she has become obsessed with the notion of mothering rather than “accepting and be grateful” with the “unconditional” love her husband has to offer. Here is where, some may say, that Yerma fails because one gets the feeling that John becomes ultimately a victim in the story and Yerma a victimizer (nothing further from Lorca’s original story). It seems that, despite the original play being nearly a hundred years old, today’s Yerma cant quite manage to lionise a woman who feels betrayed by her own body and the expectations placed upon such a body when it lacks what is considered a marker of its own essential feminity.
In short, this is a true gem of a play that could easily send Piper on her way to an Olivier nomination but that, for those who know Lorca’s original play, may seem to run a bit too lose when it comes to core and key aspects of the original story.
Yerma @Young Vic Theatre, London
Directed by Simon Stone Written by Simon Stone after Federico Garcia Lorca
Yerma – Billie Piper
John – Brendan Cowell
Mary – Charlotte Randle
Victor – John Macmillan
Helen – Maureen Beattie
Des _ Thalissa Teixeira
Lighting – James Farncombe
Sound – Stefan Gregory
Design – Lizzie Clachan
Costume – Alice Babidge