As a play about frustrated maternal instincts, Anthony Weigh’s version of Lorca’s play will do well enough, and Natalie Abrahami’s production on a red sandpit, surrounded by the audience on three sides and a corrugated iron fence, is taut and compelling.
But this is a complete re-write of Lorca, and a severe diminution of the folk ritual and Spanish-ness of the original 1934 tragedy: no choruses, no washerwomen in the great second act, and the virile Victor of Ross Anderson (his sleeves rolled up, his shirt open, so he must be virile) is a butcher whose sexuality and blood-soaked abattoir bug the over-demure, pale-skinned English rose of Ty Glaser’s barren heroine.
An ever-present small boy (mop-haired Billy Kennedy alternating with Felix Rubens, both ten year-olds making professional debuts) – the one she never had, nor will have – slides in and out of the cat flap, and her best friend Maria (a raunchy performance by Alison O'Donnell), who can’t stop popping babies, proves her ease with natural functions by urinating in a bucket, vomiting on the vega and brandishing her breasts like a pair of ripe peaches.
The core ambiguity of whether or not Juan (anodyne Hasan Dixon), Yerma’s husband, really prefers sheep to shagging is intact, though Weigh, and indeed Glaser, seem reluctant to admit that, well, the woman just can’t propagate; get over it.
In the legendary performance of Nuria Espert, bouncing on her trampoline, this barrenness is a curse and a tragic conundrum. Here, it’s merely a bit of a blow, as there’s no cultural, social or religious context for the misfortune.
There’s a half-cock attempt at copulation, but this only serves to confuse the issue: we’re invited to suppose that Juan is indeed wan between the sheets and that Yerma’s therefore rooted between a rock and a hard place, sexually; which is not the play Lorca wrote.
Still, Abrahami and designer Ruth Sutcliffe make the most of the blazing intimacy of the space, Sharon Duncan-Brewster is an exotic, pipe-smoking oracle reclining on a gnarled tree (devoid, again, of any meaningful context) and Anthony Weigh’s in with a sparky script that is more of a response to Lorca than a revelatory translation.