The Theatreguide.London Review
Young Vic Theatre Summer - Autumn 2016
Yerma is indisputably one of the great works of 20th-century theatre. While the late Federico Garcia Lorca might not instantly have recognised Simon Stone's contemporary take on the 80 year old play as his own, this searing work is certain to become an instant classic, if there can be such a thing.
The Australian director's rich imagination brings matters right up to date, anatomising and exposing today’s post-Brexit London with cool wit along the way. It also acts as a springboard for Billie Piper to shed any suggestion that she is a lightweight and prove that this is a consummate stage performer who must now be a hot favourite to sweep the Best Actress awards at the end of the year.
The 100 minute-long drama opens cheerfully enough as its unnamed female protagonist and her partner have one of those tricky discussions that must often take place between career women in their mid-thirties and men a few years older.
The lady's biological clock has set off all of its alarms simultaneously, which would have been fine if Brendan Cowell's John showed any signs of empathetic response. In fact, like Maureen Beattie as her academic mother and put-upon sister Mary played by Charlotte Randle, this jet set has more urgent issues to deal with – on the work front.
So far, this is the stuff of much literature and performance on stage and screen. In fact, even the Bridget Jones brand has taken the topic of deferred motherhood on board.
However, in his efforts to create hyper realism, Simon Stone takes someone who happens to be a journalist and soul-baring blogger on a terrifying journey into the extremes of the human psyche and allows a voyeuristic audience, seated in transverse and watching Lizzie Clachan's minimalist set through symbolically claustrophobic glass, along for the ride.
The increasingly irresistible need to bear a child moves through a series of stages starting amiably and travelling through desperation to madness.
Supported by the director’s fellow countryman Cowell, who is also on the top of his game, and a perfectly chosen cast, Billie Piper is magnificent as she allows us to share her character's desperation and degradation, changing from a fun-loving intellectual into a dangerous misanthropist cruelly begrudging her sister the pleasures that she craves and eventually driving away her friends and loved ones when reason gives way to denial.
This production is so powerful that, at times, the intensity can be almost frightening to the extent that it can be hard to watch. However, this new play inspired by Yerma is also so compelling that even blinking never seems to be an option.
Make no mistake, this is one of the year's theatrical highlights. While the Young Vic run is already sold out, there has to be a good chance of a West End transfer. When that happens, do not hesitate to book in before that too sells out.
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