NT Live (Encore): Yerma

When Billie Piper appeared in Yerma last year, I tried to get a ticket and failed.

This year, the production returned to the Young Vic. Again, I tried to get a ticket, and failed.

It was announced that the production would be screened to cinemas via NTLive, but all the cinema screenings I found were sold out.

Finally, some Encore screenings were announced and I was at last able to get a ticket. I ended up seeing it at the Tricycle Cinema in North London.

So, was it worth all the effort? Basically, yes. Billie Piper gives an outstanding performance. Her character, Yerma, is desperate for a baby and while she starts out as a confident woman with a loving partner and a challenging career, as time goes on her obsession takes over and starts to come between her and her eventual husband (a superb Brendan Cowell), while her relationship with her sister (Charlotte Randle), who is able to get pregnant without problems, is also strained. The production jumps quickly from one moment to the next, sometimes moving months, sometimes years ahead, emphasising how the desire for a child is the common thread overriding every other wish in Yerma’s life.

The production is a modern-day adaptation by Simon Stone, set in modern-day London, of Federico García Lorca’s original 1934 play. As such it doesn’t capture Lorca’s intention of seeing Yerma’s story as symbolic of contemporary Spain. However, as an examination of one woman’s mind and desires it can hardly be bettered, drawing sympathy even from audience members like me who don’t share that desire. Stone’s language manages to retain a certain poetic power even as it reflects modern day speech.

I’m so glad I managed to see Yerma at last. Even though nothing can really replace seeing a play live, the cinema version is a pretty good second best, and when the play is as good as this, I’ll take whatever I can get.

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Beckett on Screen – Television Pieces

As part of the International Beckett Season I popped along to the Barbican to attend a screening of some of the pieces Samuel Beckett wrote for television. Created specially for this medium, they struck me as being quite static – not a criticism, but an observation – making them more suited to the screen rather than the stage.

Eh Joe stars Jack McGowran, shut in a room while the voice of a woman he once loved (Sian Phillips) affects him deeply. As the camera draws ever closer to the actor’s face, the intensity of his emotions become even more apparent. This short piece was directed by Alan Gibson and was released in 1966.

Directed by Donald McWhinnie and Anthony Page, the 1977 Ghost Trio (named after Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Trio which can be heard in the piece) is similarly haunting, with repetitive movements and a lonely atmosphere.

…but the clouds…, created at the same time, is a meditation on absence featuring Ronald Pickup and Billie Whitelaw, who mouths words from The Tower, a poem by Yeats that inspired the title.

Finally, Beginning to End, directed by Chloe Gibson in 1966, stars Jack McGowran who dramatises various Beckett prose works.

Taken together, the pieces were powerful and thought-provoking, though I think I’d have to think and read about them a fair bit more to really understand them.

 

 

 

NT Live (Encore): Frankenstein

I wasn’t sure whether to write this review or not, as my experience of Frankenstein was slightly different than usual. Does seeing a theatre production in a cinema count? I don’t know, but I thought I would put down my thoughts anyway.

Back in 2011, when Frankenstein was playing at the National Theatre, I had just moved to London, and by the time I had got my head around the place and knew what was going on theatre-wise, it had completely sold out. I was gutted – I love the book, and am a fan of both of the main actors, Benedict Cumberbatch (the best Sherlock ever) and Jonny Lee Miller (Byron!). Therefore, when an NT Live Encore screening was announced for Halloween, I was really happy, and I booked a ticket straight away.

Nick Dear’s adaptation of Mary Shelley’s classic novel garnered huge acclaim at the time, and after viewing it I can completely understand why. Focusing on the life and experience of the Creature (note: not ‘monster’), it offers a new perspective on the story by asking questions about life and creation, human nature and loneliness, and the way in which people are judged on appearances. Both of the main actors gave outstanding performances, though I wouldn’t have expected anything less. Cumberbatch and Miller alternated the roles of Frankenstein and the Creature, and in the version I saw it was Jonny Lee Miller who took on the role of the Creature – very much the central role in this production.

The sets and costumes were up to the National’s usual high standard: there was a vaguely steampunk feel which rooted the action in its original time period while also seeming modern.

I am so, so glad that I was able to see this production and I can only hope that it is released on DVD someday. If it comes back to cinemas, I strongly recommend seeing it.