“A childless woman is like a bunch of thistles — something fit for God’s rubbish heap.”
Such are the poignant words uttered by the eponymous Yerma, the latest EUTC production to grace Bedlam’s stage — and grace it it does: the production, co-directed by Laura Hounsell and Jane Prinsley, is a profound success — one of the best of the season, constituted by stunning production and superb performances that do more than mere justice to Federico García Lorca’s timeless script.
Lorca’s 1934 piece traces the struggle of a young woman, Yerma (Scarlett Stitt), whose desperation for a child stands in torturous conflict with her inability to conceive. Lost without purpose and powerless against her situation, Yerma is increasingly estranged from those around her, her husband and the claustrophobic village community that reenforces such notions of womanly worth. Cast between her principles and her powerlessness, she is consumed by her yearning — not only for a child, but ultimately for mere autonomy.
The maturity of Lorca’s writing is excellently delivered by the entire cast. Stitt strikes a consistently outstanding performance throughout every element of Yerma’s dramatic character arc, always with keen nuance. From endowing Yerma with a longing wit at the play’s outset to capturing her utter existential torment in the closing scenes, Stitt’s performance is subtle yet affecting, honestly and realistically delivering a starkly pained character with whom the audience cannot help but emphasise.
Stitt is complemented by a cast of equally high calibre, in particular Gordon Stackhouse and Laura Maskrey as husband Juan and the ‘old woman’ respectively. Apathetic and unloving, Stackhouse’s disciplined performance accentuates Yerma’s isolation, embodying her helplessness in his indifference. Likewise, Maskrey is the personification of the societal expectations of womanly value that cause Yerma such anguish, performed with a grating boisterousness against which Yerma’s good heart and morals are made apparent.
The overarching success of the EUTC rendition is foremost found in its inspired production decisions. Taking place on a dynamic set that effectively switches between interior and exterior, the play’s costume and stage design constructs the stifling rurality of Andalucian village life with engrossing flair. Central to the success of the production is the original live music interwoven with the performance. Composed by Eve Simpson and performed both by a chorus and the main characters, the acoustic guitar, violin and vocals not only further immerse the audience in the folkloric setting, but go as far as to supplement Lorca’s writing through a new, non-dialogical exploration of the characters. This is certainly no mean feat.
The audience leaves Yerma with a heavy sense of the cruelness of the human condition, both biological and societal. With a mesmerising production and hauntingly affecting lead, Yerma sets a new standard for student theatre.
Image: Domi Ucar