As a keen attendee of National Theatre Live events, I was shocked to discover the running time of Yerma clocked in at only one hour and a half- a change from the usual three hours and an interval. However, the length was more than suited for this intense, difficult to watch, adaptation of Frederico Garcia Lorca’s 1934 play. Billie Piper starred as the lead, and displayed an astonishingly realistic portrayal of a woman’s spiral into breakdown. She recently won the Olivier Award for Best Actress for this role, and it is clearly evident why. She effortlessly transformed herself from a quirky middle-class blog-writer in the first half of the play, to a woman broken who loses everything in the second.
The play revolved around the unnamed, female protagonist and her struggle to have a child with her husband. However, the setting and many of the details of this play, vastly differ from Lorca’s original version. It is no longer set in 1930’s Spain where the lead is a servant, but rather in modern day London, to an ordinary woman- perhaps making this version all the more harrowing, as the issue seems somewhat closer to home. When challenged during the pre-show interview about this big change, director Simon Stone states that he has produced an entirely different play, but centred around the same myth.
A particularly effective element of this production was the unusual off-stage projection of chapter names, accompanied by a choral soundtrack. This soundtrack began as a relaxing accompaniment during the scene changes, and as the production became more frantic and intense, so did the music. The final few chapters were paired with a heavy guitar soundtrack, and the play was almost unrecognisable from its humorous beginnings.
A criticism of this adaptation was that despite its up-to-date setting where women have more equal treatment, like in today’s society; it is still portrayed as if the protagonist does not have any other choice but to stay with her husband, when they grow apart. It is suggested that she will be nothing without her husband and she would never find love again, so is forced to stay with him. I found this puzzling, and misplaced in what is otherwise a piece with strong feminist themes.
Despite this, the Young Vic’s production of Yerma was a complete success with consistent rave reviews- and rightfully so. Billie Piper was the perfect, charismatic lead to take on this very challenging performance and she is a complete natural. And Stone’s decision to transform this classic and little-performed play into the modern day was bold and carried out with astonishing sensitivity and attention to detail.
National Theatre Live performances are shown at The Dukes, upcoming performances include Hamlet starring Benedict Cumberbatch. For more details visit www.dukes-lancaster.org.