Yerma by the Young Vic. Review of National Theatre live show.


Billie Piper (Her) in Yerma at the Young Vic. Photo by Johan Persson.jpg

This is a ferocious theatrical experience.

It’s a little odd to see in a cinema because the episodic nature of it, and the titling that addresses each chapter and subchapter are rendered as video. In the theatre is it a lightbox or is video suspended above the stage?  I know not.

Accompanying each title is music that starts out loud and ends up deafening, moving from luscious Spanish folk to out and out death metal.

It’s a suitable underscore to the action on stage which charts the descent into madness of the main protagonist ‘Her’ played mindblowingly by Billie Piper.

Yerma is Spanish for ‘Barren’ and it’s a 1930’s tale by Lorca reimagined for 21st century London by Director Simon Stone in a dazzling production.  It starts in almost chaos with ‘Her’ and her future husband John (Brendan Cowell) raging against each other in drunken love with a disturbing undertone of violence, almost hatred, underpinning their love.

He’s a succesful consultant, she a struggling blogger.  Their highly sexual relationship is turning as she has notions of motherhood, he anything but.  Nevertheless ‘Her’ wins the day and he agrees to conceive.

They never do.

Perhaps her abortion of a foetus from previous lover, Victor (John Macmillan), is the reason.  But she has fertile eggs, he has strong sperm.

It seems it just isn’t destined to be.

And that drives him to erectile disfunction and stress, her to madness.

The sense of despair is tangible and grows unremittingly.

The pace picks up constantly.

The chapters flow faster.

The noise ratchets.

The glass box in which they perform is a goldfish bowl of voyeuriam.  We shouldn’t be here.  It’s JUST. TOO. INTIMATE.  JUST. TOO. PRIVATE. We REALLY shouldn’t be here looking in as this relationship collapses and erupts in total anger.

Technically the play is a masterpiece.  It reminded me of Malthouse Theatre’s incredible imagining of Picnic at Hanging Rock.  Massive snap blackouts.  Seconds later a carpet of grass, of carpet, of soil.

How?

Billie Piper is collosal.

Brendan Cowell is her match.

Simon Stone has imagined a masterpiece.