The story of Lorca’s classic Yerma is relatively well known. It is frequently performed at different theatres around the country often with a few modern twists and sometimes we see an unaltered yet equally lovely rendition.
However, even if you have seen this classic done ten different ways, I promise you that you have never seen anything like this. I confess to have been expecting a mildly modernised version of the play, perhaps in some modern setting and dress. What I was not expecting however was a complete and total re-write of the original text bringing the entire story crashing into 2016 with a bang similar to those seen in Las Vegas is the 1950s. This is, hands down, the most perfectly executed, well cast, well staged, well re-written play I have ever seen. Not only is it executed wonderfully but also it hits you like a metal baseball bat to your stomach. Gut wrenching and raw, this play delves beyond the concepts set out in Lorca’s original and spews the modern day reality straight into your lap. The delicate emotions are ripped from the original text and magnified ten fold by the use of such cleaver modernisations.
Yerma, a woman whose life is torn apart by her and her partner’s, inability to conceive a child is played phenomenally by Billy Piper. We watch her desperately, agonising, self-destructing journey unfold before our eyes. We are away from the rolling fields and time era constraints of Lorca’s original. We are in a modern day idyllic home, middle class and cosy. But the raw and despairing battle to have a child that is slowly ripping Yerma apart is very much still present.
Billy Piper is utterly mind-blowing. She gives a shatteringly good performance, and an example of the finest acting I have ever seen in my life. It felt indecent to watch, indecent to be sat watching this character completely shatter and break before our eyes, and I believed ever second of Piper’s performance. I was engulfed, enthralled by the character and the world of the play. Never before have I wanted to stand up, to scream, to shout, help, anything to save a character. She captivated us simply by being truthful and allowing us into the heart of this frenziedly vulnerable character.
The entire cast are excellent and, along with Stone’s ingenious staging, they generate a world in which Yerma could always seek help yet never finds it. The whole thing is wonderfully agonising. Brendan Cowell is superb as Yerma’s husband; it is perfect casting. He is a businessman, liberal, always jetting off to other countries for work but sweet, kind and stable. The chemistry between Cowell and Piper is electrically fun creating an ever more heart wrenchingly painful outcome to our tale.
Additions to the modernised cast are Yerma’s mum, Maureen Beattie, sister, Charlotte Randle, assistant Thalissa Teixeira and an old lover, played by John Macmillian.
Yerma is a tale of one woman’s desperate demise. This new adaptation by Simon Stone is more gut wrenching, more tragic, more painful, more thought provoking than even the original. I have never seen anything so affecting. From casting to music, from the set to costume, everything felt perfect. I simply want to see it again and again, although maybe not quite yet, I think my emotions need a break for a week before I can tackle it once more. The best show I have ever seen.
Yerma is playing the the Young Vic Theatre until 24 September. For more information and tickets, see The Young Vic website.
Photo: Johan Persson