I spent five hours driving back from Wales yesterday, one of the hottest days of the year blah blah, so what I really felt like doing when I got home was going to the Young Vic to see a depressing play about a 30-something woman who drives herself mad trying to have a baby. But Yerma has been given near-universal praise from the critics (see HERE and HERE). And when I arrived at the theatre last night the returns queue was longer than Jeremy Corbyn’s naughty list. So it must be pretty exceptional, right?
Nope, I didn’t buy it. But a quick bit of background first: the play is a modern adaptation of a Lorca play, so instead of being set in repressed 1930s Spain, it’s in modern 2016 London. Boris bike jokes and all. Yerma, by the by, means ‘barren’ in English. The star is Billie Piper as as initially perky 33-something writer who descends into chaos – professionally, emotionally, physically – over a period of several years as she tries to conceive but fails. She feels increasingly bitter about this, at one stage blogging about how happy her sister’s miscarriage makes her. Down she goes, down down down, ultimately becoming a monosyllabic, drugged up, shrieking banshee. Sound the mad woman klaxon, she hasn’t washed her hair! Then – SPOILER ALERT – she stabs herself in the womb, muttering as she dies that the longed for son and daughter won’t be coming. She’ll be coming to them instead.
Now, I am not trying for children. But I am 31 (and a writer – coincidence!) so I assumed this would talk to me. ‘There were a load of 30-something women looking depressed AF* in the audience,’ texted my sister just before I went in, Rosie having seen it a few weeks ago. ‘It makes you feel like you need to go out and start trying for a baby immediately,’ she added for extra dramatic effect. I then heard various women sobbing about me like mantilla-clad widows as the cast got their standing ovation. But, sorry, can we all think a bit harder for a tick?
Just to reiterate, I am not trying to get pregnant right now so I KNOW I can’t possibly understand what it’s like if you’re struggling to conceive and spend years and hundreds of thousands on pounds on IVF etc etc. ‘Come back to us in 10 years time you hard-nosed harpy,’ those who’ve been through the gruelling process might say.
But to reduce a woman to a clichéd husk whose only option is to kill herself because she can’t have a baby is unbelievably one-note, and the descent was too predictable. Too linear. At times, I felt like I could have been sitting in the theatre in the 1880s. More interesting, surely, to explore how she could live her life without children? Because, hey, here’s a thought, it’s 2016 and if you can’t have children then you are just as worthwhile as a woman who does have them.
It’s a bit hysterical and Guardian-like to claim that I was ‘offended’ by the play. More…disappointed maybe that a subject which is so topical (am thinking of that Nicola Sturgeon interview in the Times the other day and the ensuing debate about ‘childless’ politicians – May, Merkel and so on) was dealt with in such a one-dimensional way. Possibly this is all down to the fact that it’s a new version of an old play, but in that case, update it better.
Then again, what do I know? It’s probably just my pesky hormones talking.
*For the older readers among us, this means ‘as fuck’.
PS. A cheerier option is to go and see Groundhog Day, just along The Cut at the Old Vic. It’s a musical version of the Bill Murray film about a man who wakes up on the same day, again and again and again. I saw it on Monday night (am busy improving myself atm), and I know that the word ‘musical’ makes some people want to eat their own eardrums. But the music and lyrics are by Tim Minchin (Matilda) and I lolled throughout. Unlike in Yerma. Not so many lols in that.
(Oh, I just checked and Groundhog Day ends its run on Saturday but it will almost certainly transfer.)
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