Review – Yerma, Young Vic

Thursday 24 August 2017

We’re very late to the Yerma table. It wowed the critics last year, won Billie Piper a slew of awards including the Big One and now returns intactus to the Young Vic for a brief sold out run with only a week to go.

So if you’ve not see it yet and don’t have a ticket you probably don’t want us to tell you it lives up to the accolades. And you probably don’t want us to tell you that Andrew emerged at the end fluttering his fan saying he couldn’t think of anything wrong with it and that it was possibly the best thing he’d seen since Jerusalem. Phil found his enthusiasm more shocking than the play’s ending. Had Andrew not noticed it was performed on a traverse stage and completely forgotten about 42nd Street?

Yerma is Simon Stone‘s (at 32, absurdly young and also directing!) reimagining of Lorca‘s 1934 tale of a woman desperate to have a baby. Here she’s a journalist and blogger who puts every detail of her attempts to conceive out to the world. Not something her partner John (Brendan Cowell) is completely happy about.

We meet them as they move into their new home, lying on the floor swigging champagne and flirting over what looks like very old, very cold cheese on toast, AKA pizza. After laying out her desires her contraceptive pills are ritually stamped on in a flamenco move to remind us this was once a Spanish story.

But things don’t go to plan. A sister (Charlotte Randle) is so fecund she struggles to tell her increasingly desperate and doggedly barren sibling. Financial ruin hovers as sixty grand is spent on IVF. Gender reveal parties aren’t on the cards. You can tell things won’t end happily.

Piper, as ever, never seems to put a foot wrong. She acts completely naturally, initially playfully funny yet never becomes irritating despite being self-obsessed as she gravitates up the desperation scale to become as unattractive and raw as a plate of steak tartare. She’s surrounded by a crack team (not least the stage crew – but we will come to them), especially Cowell as her initially patient partner intoning in even tones that reminded us of Russell Crowe, Maureen Beattie as her seemingly unloving mother and John MacMillan charming as an ex-boyfriend.

But our biggest surprise was accepting the traverse staging and thinking it couldn’t he done any other way. Lizzie Clachan‘s set sounds a disaster on paper yet turns out to be a stroke of genius. Perspex screens separate the action from both sides of the audience (the players are miked), which means you can see the performers’ reflections even when they have their backs to us.

A series of short scenes are performed between full blackouts as the stage crew change the simple settings in mini coups de théâtre. How did they lay the grass so accurately in the oblong box in the dark? How did they bring on a kitchen island, sofa and fully laid kitchen table without banging into each other? Rain falls threatening to transform the set into an aquarium. And who cleans the glass? Its so perfectly smear-free at the beginning that Phil wants whoever it is to come round and have a go at his shower door.

It is not so spotless by the end. A friend there on the same night and sitting nearer the front than us hoped they weren’t going to throw any more things at the glass as it was getting difficult to see through.

And when did the unshaven female armpit become the latest thetrical trend? Much is made of Ms Olivia William’s asselle naturelle in Mosquitoes. Yerma is described as not having shaved her armpits since Kurt Cobain died.

Surprisingly much of it is very, very funny until it doesn’t become funny any more. 5 years of biological clock-watching are delivered in a nippy 1 hour and 40 minutes. Yet we never glanced at our own clocks, biological or otherwise, once. Praise doesn’t come much higher than that. Traverse staging also means they can really milk the curtain call.

National Theatre Live on August 31st at cinemas nationwide.



2 Responses to “Review – Yerma, Young Vic”

  1. Billy Says:

    A lovely review – congratulations! This sentence is a bit elusive, although the meaning is more or less clear:
    Surprisingly much of it is very, very funny until it doesn’t become funny any more.
    Could this be intended:
    Surprisingly much of it is very, very funny until it isn’t funny any more.
    Or perhaps
    Surprisingly much of it is very, very funny until it is funny no longer.
    Anyway, the rest of the review is brilliant –

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