Carrie Cracknell's farewell production as co-Artistic Director of the Gate, Electra
was one of my favourite shows of the year so far. So can the other departing co-AD, Natalie Abrahami, match it? The answer is that with a trimmed-down new version (by Anthony Weigh) of Lorca's Yerma
she'll certainly give it her best. Ruth Sutcliffe's set is a wide thrust covered in fine red sand, a landscape that'll be hard to grow anything on. We open straight after a (presumably arranged) marriage, with an adorable scene as shy newlyweds Yerma (Ty Glaser) and Juan (the very skinny but VERY cute Hasan Dixon)
nervously stall around the mattress where they're expected to consummate their relationship. Unfortunately this cute opening isn't going to be a one-off and as summer after summer passes, something isn't right in Yerma and Juan's sexual relationship and they remain childless, she feeling trapped in their tiny house, he spending all his time tending his flock of lambs and avoiding her. Not only does Yerma long for a child but her apparent barrenness is making tongues wag and she's considered bad luck in the neighbourhood, until visiting a local witch-doctor (an excellent Sharon Duncan-Brewster) brings matters to a head. There's also funny support from Alison O'Donnell as their all-too-fecund neighbour; with her cheery voiding of various bodily fluids onto the stage O'Donnell should consider auditioning for next summer's Globe season, she'd feel right at home there. Ross Anderson as a muscular butcher provides a distraction to the troubled couple but in an unexpected twist (SPOILER ALERT!) it may not be the woman in the relationship who's got eyes for him; a twist which I believe is an addition by Weigh and Abrahami but which certainly lends an interesting spin to proceedings and sets the story off interestingly in a new direction as it approaches its conclusion. But as the central couple Glaser and Dixon are outstanding, from their sweet naïveté at the start they appear to grow older before our very eyes as the 90 minutes proceed to their tragic conclusion. I can't comment on the people who've been complaining about the major textual cuts as I haven't seen the play before but as this stands on its own it's a very powerful piece of theatre. The Gate seemed almost entirely populated by American students tonight, not the most restrained of groups in showing their appreciation, and the streets of Notting Hill were echoing to an excited guy's "fucking awesome!" as I left the theatre.Yerma
by Federico García Lorca in a version by Anthony Weigh is booking until the 17th of December at the Gate Theatre.