Review: Yerma (in English)
Image courtesy Cervantes Theatre
Yerma - Leila Damilola
Juan - Tom Whitelock
Victor - Jazz Brown
Old Woman - Coco Mbassi
Dolores - Gledys Ibarra
Rosita - Latanya Peterkin
Magdalena - Christina Ellinas
Maria -Stephanie da Silva
The presentation of Lorca's magnificent Rural Trilogy at the Cervantes Theatre ends with Yerma, "a tragic poem" of a woman with a desperate desire for motherhood, who under the pressures of social convention, is driven to commit a horrific crime.
It's not often, even when a character needs to display exceptionally acute feelings, that actors can reach the point where they actually weep and enter a state bordering on emotional exhaustion.
But Leila Damilola gets exactly to that point right at the end of this play, written by Federico García Lorca in 1934.
Ms Damilola's finely-honed and absorbing performance here is almost akin to a subtly-defined but continuous dramatic scream that reaches a crescendo to mark a final punctuation to this 'tragic poem'.
Starting her description of Yerma in a fairly quiet tone, she progressively ramps up her inner rage, driven by her obsession and reaching the denouement in a semi-frenzied state where her final act seals her character's fate and terminates her overriding obsession.
Set originally in the highly restrictive social atmospherics of rural Spain in the 1930s, Yerma is a tragedy about a woman possessed by an obsessive drive to bear a child.
Yerma is married to Juan who is a successful farmer, able to provide his wife with all the basics - home, food, wine, security.
In fact, as he points out, she has more than she needs and more than many of her contemporaries.
But they are seemingly unable to have children, though Yerma longs for them.
The same cannot be said for Tom Whitelock's not unkindly Juan who is hard-working and, like most of his contemporaries of the time, sees the honour of his family as of paramount importance.
So he prevents his wife from socialising to avoid any hint of potential scandal, but that leaves Yerma incarcerated in her home without much to do.
Longing for children like neighbouring women, Yerma descends into a devastating decline which ultimately sees both Juan and Yerma as victims.
Yerma (which means 'barren') is a play about honour, isolation, restrictive societal rules, passion and obsession, among many others themes which weave their way through a moving story that cannot leave many unaffected.
Jorge De Juan's deftly-devised and sensitively sympathetic production transfers the action to Cuba, where the playwright apparently spent some time lecturing and writing.
So this is a more than suitable locational setting for an intense and, in its final moments, unbearably heartbreaking tragedy.
A substantial hammock sits centre stage providing a metaphorical womb and also a surprising start to the play.
A background of white sheets drawn over randomly angled bamboo poles evokes a kind of jumbled societal framework, that is somehow fragmented and uncoordinated, and also suggests life lived in semi-poverty from the meagre produce of rural endeavours.
Good work and effective support from the entire cast and creative team combine in a production that ably captures the intensity of Lorca's work, whilst stamping an ample measure of innovation on it - as in the voodoo-like, fevered fertility ceremony that precedes Yerma's final act.
If you've not seen this plaintive and moving play before, then this version is eminently worth catching and is highly recommended.
The larger tragedy is that Lorca's life was brought to a brutal end, at the age of just 38, 2 years after writing Yerma, at the hands of the Nationalists at the commencement of the Spanish Civil War - a devastating loss to the world of theatre, drama and poetry.
And a final note ...
As is customary at this intimate and well-appointed venue, Yerma is playing in both English and Spanish versions, so you can enjoy the work in whichever language you prefer - or both (at different performances, of course)!
The review above refers to the English version which has a different cast from the Spanish one.
Links and related content
ActDrop listing for Cervantes Theatre
Our show listing for Yerma (in English)
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