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Yerma, The Young Vic, review: “Billie Piper’s raw, primal performance seems wrenched from the soul”

PUBLISHED: 12:00 16 August 2016 | UPDATED: 17:03 17 August 2016

Yerma Billie Piper

Yerma Billie Piper

Archant

Billie Piper shines in the radically reinvented Yerma at The Young Vic in a timeless piece about infertility

Australian adaptor/director Simon Stone has radically reinvented Lorca’s 1934 “tragic poem”.

Moving from rural, Catholic Spain to 21st-century London, he finds searing resonance in a timeless piece about the agony of infertility.

Billie Piper stars as “Her” – a thirtysomething, right-on blogger whose life is upended by a growing desire to have a baby.

Partner John is increasingly bewildered as this biological urge, which goes unanswered during years of trying, overtakes everything: career, relationship, family, finally sanity.

Some of the modernising feels self-conscious, with Sadiq, Boris, Lena Dunham and Trump all name-checked and frequent labelling (Millennial, first-wave feminist).

But Stone is sensitive to contemporary pressures that make this an enduring taboo, at odds with a world defined by choice.

We may have apps like Deliveroo, but you can’t just order a baby, nor easily reconcile parenthood with an anti-establishment lifestyle.

His crisp, sub-two hour adaptation features chapter headings emblazoned on screens.

That echoes the feverish blogging of Piper’s protagonist, who spills her darkest secrets online in return for hits – confessional journalism both therapeutic and horribly destructive.

Meanwhile John travels more for work, increasing the physical and emotional distance between them.

In strong support, Maureen Beattie’s brisk, academic mother is unable to offer comfort to her struggling daughters: Piper’s conflicted wild child and Charlotte Randle’s put-upon sister.

John Macmillan excels as ex Victor, as does Brendan Cowell as an increasingly distraught husband.

Lizzie Clachan’s glass box submits them all to voyeuristic scrutiny, with sharply punctuating lighting from James Farncombe and choral music from Stefan Gregory adding tragic urgency.

But the night belongs to the outstanding Piper, whose raw, primal performance seems wrenched from the soul. We watch her slip away, sacrificing everything she was for a phantom future just out of her grasp. Shattering.

Rating: 4 stars

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