An interview with Billie Piper

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Billie Piper returns to the stage in Yerma, and London Calling spoke to her about life and her career to date.

'Earth-quaking' and 'devastatingly powerful' is how some of London's top critics described Billie Piper's 2016 performance in Yerma at the Young Vic last Autumn. It should come as no surprise then that the play's return to the influential London theatre has made it one of the hottest tickets around - particularly following the Olivier Awards in April which saw Yerma pick up Best Revival, along with Best Actress for Piper's performance.

Based on Federico García Lorca’s 1934 play about a farmer’s wife in rural Spain who cannot conceive, Australian writer and director Simon Stone has transported the action to modern-day London, with its heroine becoming a successful journalist and blogger whose world unravels when she is unable to have a child. Yerma is Spanish for barren, but Piper’s performance has been hailed as anything but as she goes from pampered city girl to distraught, and ever so slightly crazed, woman. Her mania seems even more enhanced when seen opposite the naïve indifference of her partner, played by Brendan Cowell.

Billie Piper (Her) in Yerma. Image Credit: Johan Persson

“When I read the original, I couldn’t help but feel struck by how contemporary the story felt. In a time where women strive to have it all, you still can’t ignore that ticking clock,” said Piper. But given her evident fecundity as a mother to two sons, shouldn’t Piper’s ability to convey the raw emotions of a women without kids feel all the more remarkable? “Perhaps it’s because a lot of my friends are women in their thirties, but I know so many people going through this same scenario that it feels very close to me. Particularly because I have children, I can’t imagine the jealousy and rage that goes through those who can’t,” she says candidly.

She may only be 34, but Billie Piper’s career has been impressive, to say the least. After attending London’s Sylvia Young Theatre School, she made her pop star debut aged only 15 with the infectious Because We Want To, becoming the youngest singer ever to debut at number one. By 18 she had quit the music industry altogether and in 2005 the Swindon-born Piper found mainstream success once more, this time as an actor, playing the role of Doctor Who’s sidekick Rose Tyler in the revival of the hit sci-fi series.

Billie Piper (Her) in Yerma. Image Credit: Johan Persson

Despite having huge success early on, Piper’s life has not been as charmed as some may assume. In fact, she muses on her relationship with her own parents, who felt the irresistible glamour of showbusiness pull their teenage daughter away during those heady early days. “It was a pretty lonely time and I was part of a machine. I was privy to that even at that age. I knew what was happening. I didn’t feel deluded in any way,” she explains.

“It was a relentless grind and I was missing my parents, but I also hated talking to them because every time I did it made me feel like I was really young and out of control. I wanted to neglect them completely and I reached a point in my head where I felt that I was capable of taking care of myself, so I made their parental skills redundant. We had a very strained relationship.”

Billie Piper (Her) in Yerma. Image Credit: Johan Persson

Piper appears to have been calmed by her on-stage exploits. Making her West End debut in Christopher Hampton’s play Treats in 2006, she began dating her co-star Laurence Fox, with whom she now has two children: Winston, nine, and Eugene, five. Piper and Fox divorced in 2016.

And almost 20 years into her career now, Piper appears to have finally found a good balance, where her desire to be an artist and her dismay at life in the spotlight are finally in calming equilibrium. “I’m definitely more comfortable in my own skin than I was…” she muses, before adding with a smile, “Im having a wonderful time with my children, and I feel like the media are no longer obsessed with me like they were. I’m just able to have quite a normal life and get on with my work.”

Yerma runs at The Young Vic from July 26 - August 30. Tickets are sold out, but queuing for returns on the day is possible.