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: