Billie Piper’s Performance Of A Lifetime

[usr 5]

Billie Piper in Yerma at Young reviewed by Paul Seven Lewis

Billie Piper in Yerma at Young Vic. Photo: Johan Persson

I was worried that looking through the action at members of the audience in the opposite seats would be distracting. Fortunately there was no chance of that in the Young Vic production of Yerma, thanks to a riveting script by Simon Stone and a visceral performance by Billie Piper.

The traverse stage not only puts the audiences on two sides of the stage but designer Lizzie Clachan encases the acting area in glass. This means you are much more aware that you are part of an audience watching performers, as if in a goldfish bowl or on a catwalk fashion show. You feel you are examining what is being presented before you.

Before the play began, for a few moments it was difficult to tell whether you were seeing a reflection of yourself rather than different but very similar people in very similar seats. I fully expected the glass to fly out but it stayed. As a result, I felt I was looking at fish or lizards or some other animal trapped in a tank. This was enhanced by there being no exits for most of the performance (actors entered and exited between scenes under cover of darkness). Not to mention moments when Billie Piper fell against the glass and more.

In director and writer Simon Stone’s updated version of the classic Lorca story, the central character is still a woman who wants a child but the emphasis has changed from her being pressured by Catholic society to her inability to fulfil her desire driving her to destruction. Billie Piper’s portrayal of a gradual descent from an intelligent, fun woman to someone driven mad by her inability to conceive left me shaking.

This is theatre at its best: a brilliant production serving the acting performance of a lifetime.

Yerma has been revived at the Young Vic for a limited season from 26 July to 30 August 2017.

A version of this review has appeared on my theatre reviews website