Translating Federico Garcia Lorca's tale of a woman's quest for a child is no easy task. Although the themes of sexuality, marriage and motherhood are universal- the imagery and dialogue could easily appear stilted and uncomfortable on stage if translated literally. The splendid performances in addition to Pam Gems’ sumptuous adaptation make the themes clear and the audience comfortable with the difficult subject matter and language. The production is well worth seeing and deserves high praise indeed.
As the curtain opens, Simon Higlett's set gives the audience a feel of the vast landscape in which Yerma resides. This acts as a metaphor as she describes herself as ‘barren.’ The audience really feels the character’s pain, emptiness and sense of longing. Jason Taylor's high contrast lighting literally puts the troubled woman under the spotlight in full view of her helpless friends who all have what she wants: children.
Longing is soon replaced by obsession as Yerma falls deeper into despair. The haunting music by Akintayo Akinbode works wonders alongside the movement superbly realised by Jack Murphy. This provides the play with a feeling of false hope, as does the ensemble playing of Lydia Baksh, Orla Cottingham, Caomhie Harvey and Catriona Martin among others as the peasant women. These lovely ladies deserve much praise for bringing humour and energy to the moving tragedy.
Denise Black, in the title role, gets better with every scene portraying her character’s struggle excellently. She embarks on an emotional journey from sadness, anger, desperation and back again. Often Black is playing to the audience on her own, but she always resists the temptation to over act. Her two-hander scenes with the equally brilliant Peter Gowen, who plays her tired husband Juan, are truly mesmerising. Both actors embrace the material and convey their characters’ sheer frustration at not being able to fulfil their gender roles.
Helena Kaut-Howson's direction is incredibly solid. She seems able to deliver light relief in spades without diluting any of Lorca's original ideology. This is a faultless production that leaves the audience with much to think about. The final scenes are truly electrifying rounding off a superb evening of stunning theatre which never fails to engage and involve.
- Glenn Meads