In Federico Garcia Lorca’s Yerma, a desperate wife pleads with her husband, her community and her body to deliver the baby she so rightly deserves. Women of the community are wedded, bedded and produce offspring to sow the seed of the land for generations to come. In Yerma’s case, the seasons begin to rot away within her childless belly, whilst her husband, Juan, tends to the fields to make a living. Lorca’s portrayal of a woman trapped within her own body and home is enriched with poetic language and song that breathes in every dialogue and instance. In The Gate and Hull Truck Theatre’s Yerma, “a new version” by Anthony Weigh, Lorca’s rhythmic poetry has been butchered and remolded into a story that vaguely resembles the original Yerma. It is such a shame that, given how beautiful Lorca’s original text is, Weigh seems to rework it beyond recognition, replacing much of the poetic nature with comedy or bluntness. Whilst Yerma for Lorca might flow between characters, which builds to a climatic crescendo, Weigh’s text (in the directional hands of The Gate’s Co-Artistic Director Natalie Abrahami) withers with every passing minute until we care little for Yerma (Ty Glaser) or Juan (Hasan Dixon).
Ruth Sutcliffe’s design brings an earthiness to The Gate, the floor covered in rich earth that catches in the air as the cast move across it. Mark Howland’s clever lighting captures the eye, and when this is overlapped with Sutcliffe’s design and Jon Nicholls’ sound and music, there is for the briefest of moments an excitement in this version of Yerma. The production values might be excellent but the same cannot be said for the rest of the production. This (for me at least, who was looking forward to seeing the beauty of Lorca’s narrative brought to life) falls heavily on Weigh’s inability to conjure the same dramatic impact.
There are subtle undertones formed in Abrahami’s direction against Weigh’s text. There is a distinct naivety that oozes from Glaser as Yerma, especially in the early parts of the show, and Dixon as Juan is cold and rigid, offering a nice constrast. There is light relief in the form of Maria (Alison O’Donnell) who is the neighbour who can’t seem to stop popping out the children. Yet for all purposes, this humour – whilst enjoyable – doesn’t really counteract what should be the dramatic downfall of the leading figures. Glaser’s extreme naivety doesn’t make for a convincing switch when she yearns for a child, and whilst there is a flicker of hope within the tense moment of Juan declaring that Yerma is “A wilderness, a dry riverbed with no water in”, the moment is lost once again by a lack of character development.
There are some intriguing ideas in Weigh’s version of Yerma, especially around the male figures who seem more likely to show emotion to each other than to the women they are meant to support. Ross Anderson’s Victor is extremely mysterious and whilst I disagreed with Abrahami’s [SPOILER] attempt at showing some kind of formal affection of a homosexual kind between Victor and Juan, it was perhaps something to jolt our attentions back into shape. There is potential for Abrahami’s production to soar, especially if you don’t know Lorca’s Yerma, but it continually feels disconnected, the cast never finding the right temperature for their actions or emotions.
It is a shame that the poetic, resonant and poignant idea that a woman can be so lifeless without a child, so barren that she has no identity or future, is tragic. Abrahami’s Yerma is more a fluttering of a bird that never takes flight, but plummets to the ground. Lifeless, emotionless and uninspiring.
Yerma is playing at The Gate Theatre until 17 December. For more information and tickets, see The Gate Theatre website.