Reviewed – 8th November 2018
“if I was being kind I would say that it was the intimacy of the studio space that made the climactic scene so uncomfortable”
This is the story of a marriage lived in rural Spain from the perspective of the titular Yerma, whose name translates as ‘barren’, a woman who desperately wants a son. Written by Federico Lorca in 1934, Cervantes Theatre have stuck somewhat to the original text whereas a recent, much praised Young Vic production was a modernised imagining. Whilst I didn’t manage to see either of the two London runs, it wasn’t for lack of trying. It was therefore with high expectations I went into this performance.
The actors can hardly be faulted. Leila Damilola as Yerma clearly puts her all into the role, so much so that during the bows she had to be supported to stand due to the severity of her sobbing from the final scene. Tom Whitelock as Juan strikes the balance between being both the subject and object of suffering whilst Coco Mbassi brings much needed light humour to this otherwise intensely unhappy tale. The whole cast is good, even if some of the characters appear somewhat superfluous.
Unfortunately, the text has not aged well, with the abundance of watery, fertility metaphors and various descriptions of breasts as mountains or as sand, sounding jarring to a modern ear.
Jorge de Juan’s direction felt clumsy and heavy-handed. The passage of time could have been made easier to follow, with no signal other than the explicit mention of the length of Yerma’s marriage. There were other choices as well which felt odd and made the story confusing. I lost patience entirely though in the final act when Yerma visits a local mystic to bring her a child, and the village women become possessed. It was too loud. Too manic. Too long. There is a limit to how much I can cope with convulsing and chanting before I itch to leave. If I was being kind I would say that it was the intimacy of the studio space that made the climactic scene so uncomfortable. Perhaps if I had been further away from the noise and the action I wouldn’t have found it so painful.
The goal of Cervantes Theatre, to perform great Spanish Theatre in the heart of London, is admirable. I am a strong proponent for performing work written in other languages on the London stage. We should indulge in foreign cultures more than ever, especially given the current climate of impending withdrawal from the EU. I just wish that this had been a better executed example.
Reviewed by Amber Woodward
Photography by Elena Molina
Cervantes Theatre until 1st December
Previously reviewed at this venue:
Reviewed – 7th September 2018
“in modernising the poetic writing, the atmosphere of reality in the first half leaves us unprepared for the expressionism of the second”
The first of Federico Garcia Lorca’s famous trilogy of tragedies expressing extreme elemental passions and the powerful Spanish theme of honour, ‘Blood Wedding’ is a poetic drama set in rural Andalucia. Influenced strongly by the past – medieval ballads, traditional songs and early metrical structure – he also incorporates modern and surrealist ideas, shocking in his day. Director, George Richmond-Scott, updates the story to present day London, leaving the verse dialogue behind and omitting characters, in particular the wedding entourage, which have a somewhat Greek chorus effect in the original. However, in relocating both in time and place, we lose the essence of close-knit family feuds, social pressures and the submissive position of women, which undermine the burning sense of calamity and resignation. And in modernising the poetic writing, the atmosphere of reality in the first half leaves us unprepared for the expressionism of the second.
The cast complement each other in style, creating moments of humour, music and movement but it is Maria de Lima as the Mother who is the underlying strength of the play, carrying her pain throughout as a reminder of humanity’s tragic impotence. The smouldering sentiments of Leo (Ash Rizi) are quietly but intensely present and the Wife’s sad fate is beautifully portrayed by Miztli Rose Neville. The Son and the Bride (Federico Trujillo and Racheal Ofori) each have their poignant moment – the opening scene showing the touching connection between Mother and Son, and the Bride’s moving declaration to Leo in the third act, but the weight of their doomed relationship fails to come across. Camilla Mathias’ musical interludes fit invitingly into the narrative as does her cameo role as the Neighbour, and Yorgos Karamalegos personifies the Moon with expressive movement, strangely out of place in this real-world concept.
While Christianna Mason’s set design fills the unadorned stage with doorways, platforms and steps to create a feeling of urban space, Richmond-Scott’s artful direction uses the whole theatre, cleverly involving the audience in the action. Lorca’s stage directions are very precise and he gives clear instructions for music, sound and colour. The lighting (Jack Weir) gives dramatic context to the bareness of the surroundings and the sound by Daniel Balfour is perfectly coordinated with the action, adding extra dimension to the scenes.
It is an innovative idea to remodel such a profoundly traditional piece of theatre. It has a relatable script, genuinely tortuous emotions, immersive involvement and abstract interaction but it is an uneven production in the general structure and on an emotional level.
Reviewed by Joanna Hetherington
Photography by Nick Arthur Daniel
Omnibus Theatre until 23rd September