It speaks volumes of the ambitions of this student production that they dared to take on Yerma. Federico García Lorca's play is dark, fraught and tricky to stage, requiring an exceptional emotional range from a small cast. Billie Piper is amongst those to have excelled in the titular role, in an all-conquering adaptation by the Young Vic in 2016, so there are not unsizeable shoes to fill.
The play tells the story of Yerma (Spanish for 'barren'), a woman living in rural
The lead role needs a powerhouse performance, and it gets one here from Ceidra Moon Murphy, who is excellent at the centre of it all. She does well to capture not only Yerma's agony and despair but also the occasional (and fated) glimmers of optimism in the piece. A poignant scene with Maria (Millie Tupper) and her newborn child is carried off with aplomb, as Moon Murphy evokes Yerma’s mix of joy and jealousy at seeing her friend in possession of what she so clearly craves. Moon Murphy is matched ably by male lead Cameron Forbes as Juan, and their arguments over the duty of the woman in the household are charged with tension and aggression. It is Yerma’s sense of duty, or that which has been imprinted upon her by the society in which she lives, that prevents her from taking up with Victor, a more loving suitor, portrayed perhaps a little too quaveringly by Alex Fleming-Brown.
The set design and costume are well thought out, if rather minimalist: onstage are the sparse furnishings of a rural cottage, whilst the menfolk are boiler-suited and the women clad in peasant’s tunics. But perhaps the most hard-hitting moments of the production are those in which cast and crew really freewheel stylistically, branching out from the play text. In one scene, in which Yerma is tormented by the gossip of village women, unsympathetic, overlapping voice recordings blare over the speaker system, creating a disorientating barrage of sound that goes some way to capturing the character’s paranoia.
Later, Yerma has visions of Juan and Maria entwined, portrayed through a nightmarish, red-lit dream sequence, in which Forbes and Tupper tumble over each other in slow motion. It's maybe a shame that such creative staging wasn't utilised more often - it would have been particularly intriguing to have seen a more radical approach to the final, gut-wrenching scene. But overall this is an admirable adaptation by Angel in House Productions that handles difficult source material adeptly. It's easy to think that Lorca's 1934 play might be slipping out of date, but this would be a mistake: Yerma's messages about motherhood and mental illness are as moving and salient as ever.