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This is ‘Yerma’ – but not quite as you know it. We begin on Juan and Yerma’s wedding night. To the sound of cicadas, on a red sandy set, giggly Yerma (Ty Glaser) tries awkwardly to flirt with her new husband but Juan (Hasan Dixon), tetchy and distant, is not playing.
Years pass and the couple remain childless. Juan is more interested in tending to his flock of lambs than his young wife. Solace comes in a friendship with bawdy, warm-hearted Maria (played by an exceptionally funny Alison O’Donnell) and entertainment in occasional encounters with butcher Victor (Ross Anderson), a burly counterpoint to Dixon’s pallid Juan. But Yerma’s emptiness is all-encompassing. Increasingly desperate, she seeks help from local wise woman Dolores (Sharon Duncan-Brewster), discovering some difficult truths in the process.
Natalie Abrahami’s production, her last as joint artistic director of the Gate, is atmospheric, sharp and at times affecting. But Lorca’s ‘tragic poem’ is almost unrecognisable in Anthony Weigh’s new version of the play, so much has been chopped, changed, merged or reworked. In vastly reducing the cast – and with it a sense of the stifling society in which the action unfurls – and in providing a clear answer to the central question of Yerma’s inability to conceive, Weigh’s script sacrifices the texture and ambiguity that make Lorca’s original so powerful.