“We used to have a life.
We have each other and my empty womb”
It’s Yerma yes, but not as you know it. Australian auteur Simon Stone (best known in the UK for The Wild Duck but whose Medea in Amsterdam was just masterful) has revised, reshaped, rewritten Lorca’s 1934 tragic poem into an all-too-contemporary lament that throbs with the painful intensity of Billie Piper’s stunning performance here at the Young Vic.
Encased in a glass box, the audience in traverse (designer Lizzie Clachan doing some extraordinary work), Piper plays Her, a woman in her mid-30s with a successful career as a blogger (I KNOW!) and happily married to the slightly older John. As the societal narrative goes, they buy a house and then decide to start a family but despite the fecundity of those around them, they struggle to conceive.
So what, you might say, in the modern world childlessness doesn’t carry the same negative baggage and there are more options available to resolve the issue. But what Stone does is to make us question the desperate need to have a child at the heart of play and who it is who actually applies this pressure – is it society (Lorca’s choric villagers are replaced by the online commentariat here) or is it internal, emotional, psychological.
Stone weaves in a vein of black humour that establishes his modern world well – Maureen Beattie as the flinty academic mother, Brendan Cowell’s porn-fan husband, Charlotte Randle’s complex sister – they humanise the tragedy that you know is coming and are sharply funny with it. Which carries you through some of the bittiness of the production with its many short scenes and protracted timeline, Stefan Gregory’s sound also helping to mask some of the joins.
But it does all come back to Piper and the haunting, harrowing sorrow that gnaws away at every single aspect of her life until it lies in ruins, the visceral rawness never letting go and persisting way into the night after you’ve left the theatre – this is one to remember, indeed you’re unlikely to ever forget.