Reviewed by on    All the world's a stage  

Yerma at the Young Vic
photo Johan Persson

Yerma in London, as the subtitle states, is a contemporary adaptation of  Federico García Lorca’s Yerma,  a work by one of the great 20th Century Spanish playwrights.  It was written in 1934, two years before the tragic assassination of the writer by Franco’s forces. Director Simon Stone’s  reworking of the play  sets it in an Expressionist  design environment where the young couple, (she and John as they are mentioned in the cast) are enclosed in a glass case that creates a mirror effect for the audience.

We, in the  cinema, see the British audience reflected at the back of the stage so that it gives an impression of an audience sitting on both sides of the stage,  staring into the  most uncomfortably   intimate,   increasingly violent encounters, appearing  as the secular Calvary  of this doomed couple. Gregorian chants, religious and varying forms of music in Spanish and Latin as well as a reference to a particular Japanese death ritual, mark the seven  chapters of the tale that announce  each step of this painful process  in Yerma’s desperate search  to become pregnant.

Little by little,  Yerma’s  desire and frustration grow within  in her like a destructive beast, fanned by the fact that her sister can conceive so easily and by a self-centered  mother who is unable to understand her daughter’s plight. There is also the ex-boyfriend who , in Yerma’s mind  becomes the final chance at motherhood  who is still attracted to her but cannot understand the depth of her need.  In this version, the gossiping repressive religious atmosphere of Southern  Spain that drove  the young wife mad in Lorca’s version, Yerma’s  responds to her pain by writing  about her childless life and family problems and posting them on a blog for all to see. The internet replaces the repressive attitude of the  Church which has contaminated the local women and this is the act that  finally  tears the couple apart.

Surrounded by individuals  who cannot see who she is, Billie Piper’s  hypersensitive   Yerma molds  her body and her whole self  into a  tragic creature  who can no longer control the inner pain that slides  between laughing and crying, between states of numbness and wildly  hysterical outbursts as she is overtaken by her burning obsession. The  final scenes with her husband are so intense, so teetering on the brink of true self destruction  as she wallows in the slime around her,  that one almost has trouble watching the screen.

Presenting the play essentially as a ritual of death  brilliantly captures the essence of Lorca’s work in spite of the change of time and location.  The  music and singing play a central role while the unhinging of the central character is located both in moments of violent poetry that collide with  extremely realistic exchanges – dialogues becoming simultaneous monologues that incarnate the coming disaster as the verbal communication breaks down even before the emotional and physical collapse begin.

Director Simon Stone has brought together an extraordinary orchestration  of words, of sound, of music and human interplay  that have taken  Lorca from his southern  Spanish world  into our contemporary theatrical world without losing one bit of Yerma’s meaning. Such pain and such pleasure were a welcome experience in this case.

Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht. Photo Johan Persson

YERMA   from the National Theatre Live series, performed at the Young Vic company in London.


A British blog ends  its own review of the play  with an interesting comment about the link between directors and playwrights :

Stone’s production is total theatre in the truest sense, with all elements fueling a cohesive, thoroughly convincing, updated world in which the story exists. From the most delicate metaphor spoken to the boldest design choice, nothing seems extraneous or touching the wrong note and I’m persuaded, more than ever, that the rise of the auteur/director that we’ve seen in London in the last few years, at theatres such as The Young Vic and The Almeida, allows for a more fully realised theatrical vision than the traditional separation of playwright and director.”


Yerma plays again on Saturday, September  23  (12pm) at South Keyes

Yerma by García lorca, adapted and directed by Simon Stone.

Design Lizzie Clachan, Costumes Alice Babidge,

Liging James Farncombe, Music and sound Stefan Gregory


Billie Piper as  Yerma, with  Maureen Beattie, Brendan Cowell, John MacMillan, Billie Piper, Charlotte Randle, Thalissa Teixeira