Printable CopyYERMA
Foul Play
Until 23 Nov 2019

Review by Sarah Westgarth

Every once in a while, you have an experience at the theatre that stirs you in such a way that you feel different leaving than when you entered. Foul Play’s production of ‘Yerma’, a contemporary adaptation of a Spanish script from 1934, is evocative, authentic, and deeply affecting. The show is suitably being staged by RUMPUS, Adelaide’s new independent theatre producer and venue, and it is truly a beacon of the innovative local talent that is making exciting and innovative work.

While Federico García Lorca’s original text was set over six scenes with a small ensemble cast, Holly Brindley’s version focuses in on the two central characters—Yerma and her husband of fifteen years, Juan—whose relationship fluctuates between being tenderly affectionate, and fraught with tension. We visit the couple in brief moments over the course of several months, seeing fragments of their conversations, glimpses of their interactions. They discuss whether they’re drinking enough water. What indoor plants would work in their house. Whether they should get a swimming pool. This is the content of their talk, but with each scene, the audience is offered more insight into the nature of their relationship. We hear what’s not being said, what they aren’t talking about. After all, our day to day life is not usually marked by complex conflict or grand gestures; rather, in the smaller moments that signify the hugeness of what is happening underneath.

The show is played in the round with a small audience, and actors Yasmin Gurreeboo and Nick Bennett engage with each other in a way that feels raw and intimate. When everything is subtext, the smallest movements carry huge importance; the actors use props and gestures to highlight all that is going on below the surface, and it is utterly captivating. Subtle shifts in lighting indicate the passing of time, and an ominous musical score gives even the lighter exchanges a sense of unease. There is a great amount of humour to be found as well, as Yerma and Juan bounce off each other, even when the underlying strain is ever present. Gurreeboo and Bennett’s performances are electrifying. Their chemistry is palpable as they exchange Brindley’s dialogue back and forth, keeping the delicate dance of the said and unsaid always in check. The script is masterful exploration of human conversation; there are no pithy one-liners, no heavy-handed exposition. Yerma and Juan talk in the messy, awkward, charged way that people do, and Gurreeboo and Bennett rise to this challenge with a captivating authenticity.

Nescha Jelk’s sensitive and thoughtful direction keeps it all in balance, and is beautifully supported by the designs of Meg Wilson and Sascha Budimski. ‘Yerma’ is presented in fragments, yet the work of the cast and crew have made it a stunningly cohesive study of the nature of human relationships. It is a truly extraordinary piece of theatre that makes me very excited for future work by Foul Play, and RUMPUS.