10 February 2018, IFC Cinema, Hong Kong, screening of Young Vic’s 2016 production of Yerma

Billie Piper (Her) in Yerma at the Young Vic. Photo by Johan Persson (5)Young Vic continues to create some of the most ingenious and ambitions sets.  This time, the whole production of Yerma happened within a glass box. Physically, it allowed the encircled audience to peer into the private lives of the protagonists (ironically made public by the wife’s blogging business). Metaphorically, it alluded to the fragile world that eventually cracked under high pressure. Throughout the two hour production, the glass box would be filled and emptied. It began as a pristine empty carpeted apartment. It then transformed into a fully furnished home, an office space, back to an empty apartment, to a backyard with grass and a tree, to a wilting tree and barren soils, to mud, rain and a lot of stains… back to an empty carpeted apartment stained with blood. For us cinema audiences who weren’t privy to the backstage crew changing scenes under dim blue lights (we were busy reading words stretched fully across the film screen Brechtian style), it was nearing magical.

Billie-Piper-in-Yerma-3-GQ-4Aug16-Johan-Persson_bThis style of using projections was new to me. On one hand, it facilitated the long scene changes. On the other hand, it had what I interpreted (I could be totally wrong😬) as the Brechtian goal of forcing audiences to think more by reminding them that they aren’t there to consume as escapism, but to critically digest the content. Each scene began (or did it end?) with a screen caption “Chapter x”, followed by a short few word description summarising the upcoming crux and placing it in time. I actually found the titling quite jarring and disruptive because it broke the pace of the play. The major scene changes meant I then spent time and concentration at the beginning of the next chapter trying to figure out how the set was changed. But those were minor matters, because…

Wow, was Yerma powerful. Following an early-30s woman’s life through the realisation of, and tragic aftermath of infertility (‘yerma’ means barren in Spanish), the play is a modern day reimagining of Spanish playwright Lorca’s original 1934 piece. The cast was impressive. The writing and direction were equally impressive. To think, for a writer and director at the age of 31, to be able to take apart a classic and recreate something so sophisticated and telling of our times… hats off to Simon Stone. It’s no wonder that this production made it to the West End, then to New York, sweeping up loads of awards along the way including Billie Piper’s Olivier Award for Best Actress.

5292Although the show depicted quite an intense unfolding of events where the protagonist’s obsession and pain were so extreme it was difficult to empathise (yes, of course drama is necessary for theatre), it’s an alarm bell for modern day living. Why has society dictated and our idealistic minds created such unrealistic measures of perfection and equations to “a good life”? How come we’ve become so inflexible and unwilling to compromise when it comes to personal matters? How come we aren’t satisfied with mediocrity, why do we keep needing and wanting more, even at the expense of our own stability, identity and privacy? And most of all why are we so darn ill-equipped to help others when it comes to mental health issues?

Or perhaps you just walk away, thinking erm, that just reinforced the stereotype that women are craazy.

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