I recently saw Yerma at the Young Vic, directed by Simon Stone. I’m a little late with this review (the play has been running since late July and recently closed) but it had a significant impact on me, and I wanted to share my thoughts nonetheless.
As Spanish speaker, I was nervous. Lorca is notoriously difficult to translate. His texts are rich with strong imagery and cultural resonances, and the rhythm of the lines heightens the emotional intensity of the language. His plays are beautiful to read aloud in Spanish; even if you can’t understand the words, meaning is conveyed through the flow of consonants.
I needn’t have worried; watching Yerma, I was thrown straight into the world of the play. Despite being written and set in Catholic Spain in the 1930s, it felt unnervingly fresh and relevant.
The issues surrounding female autonomy – how we respond to our bodies; how the world impacts on our self-ownership; how our independence, our self-worth and even our sanity are tied to our fertility – are all discussions that, sadly, continue to be pertinent. Yerma does not shrink away from the pressures women face on a daily basis; in fact, it leans on them heavily. As a woman approaching the socially acceptable ‘childbearing age’, I felt acutely on edge throughout the performance.
In translating the text, Stone has managed to maintain the poetic intonations, while manipulating the language to fit a contemporary setting. The action is encased in a glass box that stretches the length of the stage. The effect is an atmosphere of claustrophobic intimacy; the false boundary between audience and actors serves to draw us closer together, making us complicit in Yerma’s downward spiral.
Billie Piper gives everything to the performance, gradually building in intensity without ever becoming screechy or one-note. At the curtain call, she looks dazed and shaken. My expression mirrored hers. I felt the ending like a sucker punch.