Director Simon Stone has transformed Lorca's 1934 tragedy, "Yerma,"by transplanting it from rural Spain to contemporary London. Poetic and flowery prose is replaced with modern and often raw language, which helps to make it an interesting and relatable adaption. Finely orchestrated and achingly beautiful, "Yerma" at the Old Vic is one to catch.
The play centers around the marriage of a charming yet slightly spoiled lifestyle blogger referred to simply as "Her." It follows the couple's decision to have children and the pressures that come with being unable to conceive. To begin with, the couple has it all: middle-class life in London, friendships, fun and lashings of champagne. Yet, the inability to get pregnant coupled with the lead's unmotherly relatives push her into a destructive downward spiral.
Over five "barren" years, "Her" dramatically metamorphosizes into a crazed, obsessive and at times drug-fueled woman consumed by her own inability to bear children.
Billie Piper's performance has been described as earth-shattering, stunning and hauntingly powerful. The actress has certainly come a long way since topping the charts with teeny-bop anthems like "Because We Want To." Unlike many other young stars, Piper shook off her pop past by using her Sylvia Young training to set out as an actress.
Piper's first notable part was playing Dr. Who's lovable companion, Rose Tyler. She made headlines for marrying Chris Evans at the tender age of 18. Later she landed the raunchy role of Belle in "The Secret Diary of a Call Girl" written by Lucy Prebble who became close friends with Piper. Other work includes starring in "The Calcium Kid," a BBC adaptation of "Much Ado About Nothing" and "The Ruby in the Smoke." Her stage background includes roles in "Treats," as well as "Reasons to be Pretty," which ran at the Almeida Theatre. While no stranger to critical acclaim, it's Piper's performance in "Yerma" that has earned her the title of one of England's top theatrical actresses.
"Yerma" has been updated for modern audiences; Lizzie Caplan's minimalist set reflects the lead's despair, plus it is a nod to the Spanish translation of "Yerma": barren. The scattering of coloured fairy lights are symbolic of the glimmers of hope and the early good times.
Stage props are minimal yet powerful; an unusual feature is the transparent walls that line the stage, with the audience being positioned either side. This staging makes the audience feel like voyeurs looking in on a bubble of life, while also being symbolic of failed fertility treatment and living under a microscope. The haunting soundscape pairs perfectly with the play's mix of extremes, with short bursts of female voices and harmonies.
There's no interval in this one hour and 40-minute play, which leads the audience to become utterly absorbed in the gritty performances.
If you've already scored yourself Yerma tickets, you may want to watch some other plays. Check out the long-awaited Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, or for something a little lighter, The Impractical Jokers will be sure to make you laugh out loud.
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