Director: Simon Stone
Screenwriter: Adapted from the play by Federico Garcia Lorca
Runtime: 120 mins approx. (no interval)
Australian Release Date: 14 October 2017
Previewed at: Dendy Newtown, Sydney, on 4 October 2017.
Simon Stone’s adaptation of Federico Garcia Lorca’s 1934 “tragic poem” Yerma is breathtaking. From the moment the house lights go down and the stage is lit up, the protagonists are trapped like bugs under a microscope, surrounded by a transparent, cage-like set that creates a claustrophobic setting from which there’s no escape - for us or them. For the next 120 minutes, you are party to a situation that someone in the audience is probably going through or, if not, there’s a good chance that they know someone who has.
Stone, described as ‘the enfant terrible of Australian theatre,’ has moved Lorca’s setting from Spain to present-day London. A married couple have just moved into a new house in an up-and-coming location and are enjoying a bottle of bubbly to celebrate their new abode. It’s quickly established that the woman (Billie Piper) is a blogger and lifestyle journalist and her partner John (Brendan Cowell) is some kind of ‘mover and shaker,’ hurriedly building up his business and eager to adopt the affluent lifestyle of the rich and famous. When the conversation turns to raising a family, it doesn’t take long to realise that, because the biological clock is ticking for Her (she’s never named), the desire for a child is bordering on an obsession; only John’s not so keen. Piper’s character soon becomes relentless in pursuit of her dream of motherhood, creating emotional chaos in the process. When her sister Mary (Charlotte Randle) falls pregnant, she is happy for her but there’s an underlying envy that raises an unspoken barrier between the siblings. Their mother Helen (Maureen Beattie) sees pregnancy and children as albatrosses around a woman’s neck and can’t identify with her daughter’s fixation, thus adding to the conflict raging within Her. Even an old flame Victor (John McMillan) is brought into the fray, while John goes on longer and more frequent business trips. It’s a recipe for disaster.
When interviewed about his analysis of Lorca’s play, Stone stated that, “… going to the theatre is still a cathartic social ritual left to us” and he’s certainly succeeded in bringing that catharsis into the open with Yerma. The performances by all the actors are exemplary and Piper’s turn in particular is riveting and shattering in equal parts; she doesn’t let up for a moment as her character descends into a Hell of her own making. She deservedly won a number of Best Actress theatre awards, including an Olivier, for the role. It’s little wonder this interpretation of Yerma (which translates as ‘barren’ in Spanish), performed at the Young Vic and brought to our screens by The National Theatre Live, was deemed by The Times as “an extraordinary theatrical triumph.” This searing adaptation of Lorca’s original play is still highly relevant today; it should not to be missed.