Natalie Abrahami’s direction of Federico Garcia Lorca’s Yerma is a simplified linear affair providing a riveting if rocky night at the theatre.
Spanish for “barren”, Yerma remains the grim tragedy of a deceitful childless marriage and Anthony Weigh’s version brings a starkness to the 1934 original that lends a compelling urgency.
The red brown set with corrugated siding, sand and a stark white mattress speaks of wilderness. A bitter wedding cake and a reluctant, choreography between newlyweds foreshadow the harshness that eventually strips Yerma raw.
Ty Glaser is so pale and slim, as unsubstantial as Yerma’s dovelike character, a protagonist without identity. Whether intentional or not Glaser’s portrayal is naive to the point of mentally deficient especially countered by her calculating and distant husband Juan (Hasan Dixon) who prefers nights amongst the sheep to the marital bed. This incongruous relationship heightened the sense that Yerma is a simpleton rather than a victim making it difficult to empathise with her circumstances.
Hasan Dixon (Juan) and Ty Glaser (Yerma)
Victor, the local butcher, so utterly masculine he leaves Yerma yearning brings some much needed passion. She drinks from a glass touched by his lips and swoons over a remembered touch. Even fetching meat from his abattoir is an opportunity for double-entendre as she declares “I’ll take my heart and go”.
Weigh’s homoerotic twist is at the heart of this adaptation; a suggestion giving depth, even a purpose, to Juan’s cruelty as he banishes Victor (Ross Anderson) as though eradicating sin.
Yerma’s friend Maria (Alison O’Donnell) provides welcome levity to these dismal proceedings as she champions motherhood for easing wifely duties “…carrying things, that’s what you have kids for.” O’Donnell’s saucy portrayal from lascivious lass to worn out mother and superstitious villager revives the tempo with each appearance.
But no injection of humour can lighten this crushing tale as seasons pass in a fertile land while Yerma remains without her longed for child. As her world closes in and truths become apparent we witness her despair and tenuous grasp on reality slipping away.
This version is however without Lorca’s sense of absolute exclusion from village life. The suffocating separateness of the original text creates a bell-jar removing any sense of Yerma’s identity leaving only an ephemeral ghost of her own imaginings. The cast is convincing and, with Abrahami’s skilful touch, the evening is entrancing but lacks the claustrophobic sense of isolation needed to deliver the full weight and power of the final tragedy.
Until December 17 2011
The Gate Theatre
11 Pembridge Road
London, UK, W11 3HQ