Yerma is a play written by the playwright Federico García Lorca and first performed in 1934. It was performed at the Young Vic Theatre and featured Billie Piper and Brendan Cowell as leads playing Yerma and John with a supporting cast of four under the direction of Simon Stone.
What struck me foremost about this play was the staging. The whole play was performed in a glass container that ran the width of the theatre. This gave the play a neatness that was somehow satisfying and the sense that we are being afforded a view into the volume – the three-dimensional space – of a room or fenced garden. Where the container was less relevant, it transitioned effortlessly into being incidental taking nothing away from the stagecraft. Crucially, however, in the final chapter of the play, it became supremely operative in allowing a mist-like rain to fall, isolated pristinely within the performance space. It was like watching a monsoon; this one enjoyed adroit lighting that gave a wonderful visual effect, making the droplets shimmer and sparkle.
All of this served as a backdrop for the similarly stunning acting of Piper and the rest of the cast. A friend remarked to me offhand that people wouldn’t take Piper seriously after her best-known performances (Doctor Who
Faithful Reproductions, Modifications
Lorca’s original play was about a farmer’s wife. She had nothing to do but have a child. She was obsessed with the notion from the outset and expectation lay in her lap to have one. Not similarly, Billie Piper’s Yerma seems almost embarrassed as she suggests having a child to her partner (later husband), employing a false devil’s advocate kind of façade as she makes her suggestion: what if some future me regrets not having a child. There’s no pressure from her ‘first-wave feminist’, academic mother who borrows an Alien metaphor to describe her own pregnancy and nor, presumably, is there much from anywhere else. She has a career of her own, and certainly autonomy. Ideological context is not what drives her obsession. It’s interesting since this would have for the original Yerma.
Make no mistake however – Billie’s Yerma is still obsessed. The development of her obsession is confused and confounded but certainly the negligence of John as a partner seems to make a contribution. Nice, since the original has hints of this in a different manner. She becomes crazed, and definitively psychotic recognising strangers as her ex-boyfriend and now colleague Victor, or as John. The obsession grows out of somewhere that is, in my opinion, more currently relatable. It is a combination of confusion, uncertainty and worry at not being able to do something normal – these are more at play early on – and then a bona fide desire to have a child, which is not explicitly fleshed out, but it becomes de facto the case.
This was a very well-acted and staged play, with some great use of the stage and effects to boot. Other reviewers have responded positively to it and I would recommend it, especially to quell whatever preconceptions you might have about Billie Piper’s capacity for stage performance.