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:
The House of Bernarda Alba
La casa de Bernarda Alba
Reviewed – 2nd November 2017
“the impression of intense heat which, combined with the themes of sexual tension, created an interesting dynamic”
Powerful, atmospheric and engaging – this sums up the production of The House of Bernarda Alba at the Cervantes Theatre last night. Set in Spain in 1930s and banned there until 1963, Lorca’s play tells the story of a controlling Matriarch and her five daughters. The control she exerts over the girls goes beyond reason until it finally ends in tragedy. Mary Conlon’s performance as Bernarda exudes a dark control as she becomes increasingly concerned with reputation, duty, status and what the local community will think about her five daughters.
Tension mounts as the play moves forward and is enhanced by atmospheric sound effects such as male voices and church bells. Set in a devoutly Catholic country, the sound of a tolling bell is both ominous and doleful. In addition, like the other effects used it represents the outside world which the girls are not part of. Indeed, the claustrophobia of their lives trapped with their mother, who prevents them from any kind of freedom, is almost palpable as is the sexual frustration they all experience. This is cleverly portrayed by the manic sewing they undertake, ironically of their wedding sheets, which will never be used.
The link between the world inside the house of Bernarda Alba and the outside, is the housekeeper played by Moir Leslie. This role is convincing and whatever humour there was in this play, was carried by Leslie’s dry delivery and honest acknowledgment of the truth. She is the all knowing eyes and ears of the house issuing warnings from the onset in an utterly convincing, if not slightly sinister way.
Of the five daughters, Pia Laborde as Amelia stood out because of her vulnerability and unpretentious performance. Beth Smith as Martirio is also worthy of note sustaining a convincing hunchback throughout.
The stripped back set created the interior of a Spanish house simply by the suggestion of terracotta tiles. This created the desired effect along with simple white walls and two sewing machines. Both the set and lighting gave the impression of intense heat which, combined with the themes of sexual tension, created an interesting dynamic.
In the words of the play ‘to be born a woman, is the worst punishment’. Lorca’s portrayal of these women certainly appears to be just that. Personally, I could do without any more plays involving the role of a ‘hysterical female’. It’s boring, tedious and old fashioned. Overall, however, excellently directed by Jorge du Juan with great performances from throughout.
Reviewed by Holly Barnard
Photography by Elena Molina
THE HOUSE OF BERNARDA ALBA
is at the Cervantes Theatre until 2nd December – some performances are in Spanish – check schedule