National Theatre Live - Yerma: Storytelling at it's best
Given how the current state of affairs continues, the only way I and so many theatre lovers can get their theatre kick is from the comfort of (if that's the right way to even put it) of our own homes. There, hopefully most of us will have access to the internet to find pre-recorded shows from the Globe, National Theatre etc. Personally, I invested in purchasing the National Theatre at home subscription, where I have access to a few National Theatre Live performances to at least curb my appetite until I can see a live show later in the year (please Boris !). There, I thankfully managed to watch Yerma. This is my review - enjoy !
Where: Young Vic, London (accessed via NTL/ NTH)
Cast: Billie Piper, Brendan Cowell, John Macmillian, Thalissa Teixeira, Maureen Beattie, Charlotte Randle.
Director & Writer: Simon Stone
Simon Stone successfully adapted Federico García Lorca’s classic Spanish tragedy into a fully contemporary British tale of woe. We see a happy and successful journalist fall into a painful and deep despair longing for the one thing it seems she can never have. Each scene leads onto the next in a continuous flow of emotions and the whole story feels real and relatable at every turn. These characters could easily be people we know or have seen in the street without realising it.
Each scene felt like a diary entry into Yerma’s life. We are notified of the times and titles to each scene before their start on a black screen in a Brecht-like manner, accompanied by an inter-scene soundscape, as created by Stephan Gregory. The rhythm and tone of this soundscape are often unpleasant when Yerma herself is in an erratic state of mind, and as the play goes on these introductory dates become meaningless as the seemingly endless struggle to conceive continues.
Lizzie Clachan’s set design is simple, but powerful and the thin clear walls encasing the stage indicate the separation between happiness and despair in the world of Yerma and the very vulnerability of Yerma’s soul. The stage floor starts and ends with a clean plain cream carpet. This changes later to an outside grass green, with a single tree of hope, which eventually starts to whither like Yerma herself. Finally, the ground turns to black, like the mud at a festival, but seems more like the pit of hell at this point in the show. In tandem, the contrast of the seemingly empty blackness of the auditorium to the intense spotlight on the stage emphasises the importance of each scene and that moment in Yerma’s life it represents.
The struggles many modern-day women experience in conceiving a child, in comparison to rural Spain back in the 1930’s when Lorca’s play was first written, have clearly been researched in full and the theme of the inner and outer turmoils of fertility is played to great effect. The suggestion of ‘I’m 33, I don’t want to regret not having a child’, plays into the stereotypical premise on an ‘ideal’ women’s role in society: great job, great partner, beautiful children and how old is too old to have these things? The play cleverly, but emotively questions these issues and how they add to the stresses upon the limits of fertility when many try for a baby.
The stand-out performance was from Billie Piper. Her captivating rendition of the titler character demonstrates a full and complete understanding of the character’s given circumstances, wants, motives and background story. Billie is fully engaged throughout the performance and her closed physicality and her distinctive voice, worked very well with the contemporary text. She has accessed a raw and instinctual place of truth and from this we are completely invested in the character’s journey. What she sees, we see and more importantly, believe. All other members of the cast gave strong supporting performances to bring this invaluable story to an audience.
Simon Stone’s beautifully re-imagined world of Lorca’s Yerma (Spanish for barren), brings to the forefront a modern-day insight into childlessness of a woman who desperately doesn’t want to be so. As we travel along the heartbreaking tempest of Yerma’s story, our loyalties interchange from herself to the people closest to her as Yerma’s want for children develops into a dangerous and poisonous obsession. In staying true to Lorca’s original writings, this Young Vic production delves in and out of naturalism, representative of Yerma’s deteriorating mental state. It was a brilliantly executed and beautiful rendition of what happens when you hope against hope.
Side note: The views expressed here are my own.