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In conversation with the co-directors of Yerma

ByPaola Lindo

Mar 13, 2019

It would be rational to initially question the appeal of Federico García Lorca’s 1934 story of a rural, infertile Andalucian woman, especially within the context of today’s relatively progressive Edinburgh city centre environment – it could very well seem outdated, irrelevant. Yet, upon conversing with Jane Prinsley and Laura Hounsell, co-directors of the upcoming production of Yerma in Beldam Theatre, any existing hesitation subsequently dissipated. 

The play, entitled “barren” in Spanish, follows the eponymous Yerma, who, in the directors’ own words, is “a woman who [longs] for a child and for love, and [struggles] to find either in a world of claustrophobic societal expectation.”

Lorca himself described this piece as a “tragic poem.” Indeed, it is clear that this particular production was heavily inspired by the fact that it was written in metaphors and melodic prose – the tones of lazy, warm, terracotta sunsets seem to be reflected in almost all aspects of production. But do not be mislead. This story is neither tame, nor about submission. Rather, as Jane explains, it is about how this mellow, rural society suddenly “cracks.”

We never hear Yerma’s name. The cultural paradigms of the time dictated a childless woman with a ‘barren’ womb to be without purpose, without value, and unworthy of even the basic indicator of identity, a name. Yerma is already predisposed to be seen as an outcast within her community, or at least not within the norm. Nevertheless, she continues to defy cultural expectations in her desperation, lashing back from her grievances and misfortune in a way which further deviates her from a society that increasingly deems her as irrevocably inappropriate, unconventional, and unacceptable.

In our exchange, Jane and Laura spoke of the play’s universality, and how it retains a certain  vitality. This is especially the case due to the aforementioned fact that the story is written poetically, rather than through dry, linguistically-archaic monologues, allowing the play’s themes and messages to be easily extracted by contemporary audiences. They further commented on the complexity of the protagonist – in fact, they mentioned Lorca’s history of creating quite extraordinary female characters who feel “rounded and real, [even] today.” Lorca was, of course, not exactly within the norms of his society himself. He was a generation ‘27 artist, a gay, left-wing radical – a revolutionary shot by Nationalists at the genesis of the Spanish Civil War, his body never found. This is telling of how his characters exhibit and retain their pugnacity. 

Although I was slightly saddened to see the audition process resulted in a Spaniardless cast, the production’s actors have clearly made the story their own. For example, they double as musicians and incorporate music through guitars and fiddles, bringing elements “not usually seen on the Bedlam stage” to accompany the enchanting lighting design and set, which is truly exciting. From what they communicated, it was not the Spanish setting, language or characters that served as the centerpoint of their directorial decision-making, but the concept of the rural. The directors eagerly emphasised how rural and folk elements are very much reflected in staging and costume – even mentioning they have real trees on-stage (without saying much more at the risk of spoilers)! 

Upon comparing Yerma to the recently acclaimed film Roma – which similarly follows a Hispanic rural woman who also encounters a difficult relationship with motherhood – Jane and Laura made it clear that this story is different. It is tragic, angry, climactic and undoubtedly worth seeing.

Yerma runs from March 13-16 at Bedlam Theatre.

Image: Domi Ucar

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