Yerma offers a strikingly powerful look into the mind of a women desperate to conceive, despite a strong cast and story it is occasionally let down by confusing scene changes and an overpowering soundtrack.
The play originally written by Federico Garcia Lorca and set in rural Spain around the 1930s, has been cleverly reinvented for the modern audience by Simon Stone. Gone is the rural township of the original, replaced with a modern London filled not with malicious washerwomen but with bloggers and businesses instead. Despite these dramatic shifts from the original text the heart of the story remains the same, Yerma (or barren in English) is a women desperately trying to conceive despite all the challenges put in front of her.
Billie Piper plays the titular role, she however never directly addressed as Yerma but instead simply as her. Throughout the entire performance the text along with Billie’s performance will keep you engaged, though the strongest part of her and husband John’s performance is how your sympathies will frequently switch between each character. As Her begins to descend into a state of madness, being unable to concentrate on anything but the need to conceive we begin to see the lengths her character is willing to go to achieve that, some of these measures will leave feeling pity for her character but also a good measure of disappointment. While the brunt of the drama is held up by these two character each of the remain cast have their moments to shine, from Maureen Beattie’s Helen who is Her’s blunt and unattached mother, who frequently throw’s bucket loads of criticism at the need for a baby, referring to her own as ‘like having an alien inside of you’. While lines similar to these fit in with the tone of the play, they often felt a little out of place or too overplayed to get the point of ‘babies aren’t that great’ across. Meanwhile the remaining cast put on stellar performances though each character is only ever there to pull on one string of the performance, her sister has the child but doesn’t want it, the ex-boyfriend who could maybe give her a child and the friend who just appears to criticise Her’s day job as a blogger. Because of this set up most of the scenes are one to one with each character coming in, carrying on their part of the story and moving on like a revolving door.
The staging and sound are the most tricky to comment on, watching this performance in a cinema felt like I was missing something. The action seemed to take place between two glass cases used to represent the house and garden predominantly, other than that the stage is kept very simple and sparse as the cases themselves don’t seem to offer that much space. While the staging is kept very simply the opposite stands for the sound throughout, at the beginning of each scene a title is presented on a plain black screen either to convey the time passed or the events occurring. Along with it comes the ever increasing in volume of powerful instruments and voices – within the cinema I found this be almost deafening towards the end rapidly sucking out any satisfaction gained from the production.
The other issue these swift scene jumps led too was often confusing scene changes, one such jump left the play appearing as if Her had decided to cheat on her husband and had conceived from it, despite the blackout titles some of the time leaps left me struggling to keep up – though that may have been down to the headache inducing concerto affecting my ability to concentrate. These distraction tactics could be interpreted as a deliberate way to look into the mind of Yerma as the audience is subjected to her madness, but that’ll depend on how much you value your hearing.
Yerma is a straight, thought provoking drama – see it in the theatre.