Friday, 5 August 2016

FIVE STAR review - Yerma at the Young Vic

THE burning, unquenchable desire for a child can be all consuming, an ache in the pit of a woman’s stomach.
For many couples of course, there is no problem and babies are conceived and born. But for some the heartbreak of not being able to have a child is devastating.
It is this that is played out by one couple in Yerma, Australian writer and director Simon Stone’s version of Lorca’s great poem about a woman driven to desperate lengths in her desire to have a child.
It is has just opened at the Young Vic and stars Billie Piper in the title role. It is the most gut wrenching story, powerful and intense and superbly played out in a glass box which adds to the feelings of claustrophobia and for us the audience being voyeurs in what is a horribly personal and private struggle.
To begin with the couple are in a large house that they have just bought in a leafy, affluent and “safe” part of London.
She is a journalist, and he has an undefined job doing deals of some sort all over the world. They appear to have everything - they are in love, their careers are on the up, they have a nice house and money. Yet for her, something is missing and that something is a child.
Over the course of the following 100 minutes or so we see her change completely as her desire to get pregnant consumers her utterly to the point of obsession. Meanwhile her sister falls pregnant easily, twice, causing her even more pain.
And as her desire grows so does her torment with each failed attempt and so she writes about it on her blog, laying out her despair for all the world to see - and turning what for most is an intensely private grief into something very public - and her readers lap it up.
And not only does she write about it, her behaviour changes too, as she becomes almost mad with her obsession.
It is the most astonishing piece led by a hugely impressive Piper and supported by a terrific cast including Brendan Cowell as her husband John. Looking and sounding like Russell Crowe - so much so I had to do a double take at first - we are never quite sure whether he really wants this child or not but we see him go on a roller coaster journey alongside his wife. He veers between trying to please her and give her what she wants and trying to save her from herself.
When the end comes it is desperate, devastatingly sad, utterly tragic and difficult to watch. 
Piper is utterly phenomenal and proves without doubt what a stunning actress she is. I can’t imagine how she feels when the lights go out at the end after such an intense performance but I was in tears.

Yerma is on at the Young Vic until September 24. Visit for full listings.

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