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BWW Review: YERMA, Cervantes Theatre

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BWW Review: YERMA, Cervantes Theatre

BWW Review: YERMA, Cervantes Theatre What is the point of a woman if she is not, and cannot, be a mother?

That brutal question in the conception casino of early 20th century Spain lies at the heart of Federico García Lorca's searing play, Yerma, the tale of the eponymous woman, barren, and desperate for a child - well, for a son.

It sounds grim - and often it is, how could it be otherwise - but Lorca is a genius, and, as layer upon layer of meaning, beauty, poetry unfolds, the stakes never diminish, but the, what, intellectual engagement, nourishes us as perhaps no writer bar Chekhov can deliver.

Leila Damilola goes all in as Yerma, the tears genuine, unstemmed by anything as superficial as the curtain call, a woman inhabiting a woman as written by a man who knew what inhabits the deepest recesses of a woman's heart.

Of course ,it's a wonderful performance - a robot speaking these words would be pretty good - but the excavation of such atavistic hopes and fears, the nightly construction and then crumbling of a human being should (and does) take its toll. Damilola leaves nothing of Yerma, nor Damilola, offstage.

Opposite her, Tom Whitelock gives us a Juan who is cold, crudely unsolicitous of his wife's social and sexual needs, an emotional chasm into which Yerma's humanity topples.

Is Juan gay? There are plenty of clues if you're minded to look, not least the wise mother of nine (Coco Mbassi all withheld wisdom and knowing looks) who is prepared to gamble a son's life on Yerma's capacity to conceive. Perhaps, on the few and far between nights that Juan musters the motivation to lie with his wife, he fakes it?

He wouldn't be the first man to do so, gay or straight - and how would Yerma know one way or the other? Lorca would have known how the "barren" can be a product of social as much as physiological conditions.

There's a fine theatrical set-piece (that just about avoids overstaying its welcome) when Yerma goes through a fertility rite, a reminder that within living memory, in Europe, such witchcraft could seduce desperate people to desperate acts. In contrast, an understated finale is perfectly judged - we all saw it coming, so why labour the point?

Director/adapter Jorge de Juan does not just know Lorca, he feels him, as perhaps only a Spaniard who gulps down that language undimmed by its translation into an inevitably cooler English, can do and it is to his and his cast's credit that this level of intensity floods the intimate space for 80 coruscating minutes. How fortunate we are to have Lorca's Andalusian dystopia so magnificently realised in autumnal London.

And how unfortunate we are to have lost this most gifted of playwrights at the end of a fascist rifle at the heartbreaking age of 38.

Yerma continues at the Cervantes Theatre (in Spanish and English - check dates) until 1 December.

Photo Elena Molina


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