By Bob Shuman
According to legend, Iphigenia gives her life so that the Greeks can sail to the Trojan War. Aside from those in the military, not many think much about sacrificing themselves–and their families–for their country today—but this is the central issue of Iphigenia In Splott—the story of a legal choice, made over a medical issue, by a “stupid slag,” a “nasty skank,” which has come to Brits Off Broadway (59E59 Theatres) via the U.K.’s National Theatre. Gary Owen’s play, written in Cardiff dialect, won the 2015 Best New Play in Britain and the Stage Award for Acting Excellence 2015, yet Americans may ponder the vernacular of the work and the play’s dramatic resolution. Maybe British people don’t concur with it either, but the U.K. healthcare system is more entrenched than ours: it started in 1948; by comparison, look at the trouble Americans are having replacing Obamacare, which was only signed into law in 2010. Those in the U.S. can see Iphigenia In Splott as a cautionary tale, an argument as to why socialized medicine should never take hold here—and a reason for why the Affordable Care Act had to be rejected. They also might end up thinking that, ultimately, despite her outrageous life of alcohol and drugs and casual sex, Effie, the central character, makes the decision someone in the British lower classes should–that this is how her society had programmed her. If Iphigenia In Splott had happened in New York, lawyers, without compunction, would have been standing in line to represent the case. They also would be outraged as to what happened to Effie, although Americans, of course, have their own problems with the medical system: on the subway yesterday, a newly retired African-American gentleman was explaining how during his stroke, he instructed his 911 caller to say that he was Jewish, so that an ambulance would arrive faster.
Despite the fodder for debate, Owen’s play represents one of the few occasions where Americans can examine U.K. domestic policy—we’re so used to writers from the Guardian and English-trained Shakespeareans commenting on ours. However, those in the U.S. would probably not have problems seeing the benefits of a free market rather than struggling to maintain an inefficient status quo. This is not to say that Americans can’t be clueless about Britain, as when The New York Times ran a review of A Taste of Honey—a play that will remind of this one–under the title, “She’s Having the Baby. How Quaint.” Jo, in Shelagh Delaney’s work, is younger, though—and she never reaches the volcanic heights of Effie (searingly played by Sophie Melville): “Fuckin bottles, fuckin cans, fuckin ash trays. Fuckin boys swilling their drinks, bobbing their heads to the music, Looking sulky as fuck, and shit, shit. Anywhere there’s space to cram something, there is something: and it’s shit. I can’t be here.” But she is–and sociology can’t seem to correct it.
While the English may like the denouement in Owen’s play because the character stands on her own two feet, the problems of the welfare state continue to shape and plague the youth, forcing them to “take it” because they can take it (“the only way I get through the week is a cycle of hangovers,” Effie discloses). Ann Coulter, an American who can be known for her own vitriol, has written, “The rampaging mob might save England from itself, finally removing shaved-head, drunken parasites from the benefits rolls that Britain can’t find the will to abolish on moral or utilitarian grounds.” But whether she is the cause or a casualty, Effie may be deluding herself that she is Iphigenia, and has helped save a nation. Whether she knows it or not, she may have saved herself, though—this reviewer’s friend explained, after the play, that others, who have been in comparable situations, have tied themselves up emotionally and monetarily for years, fighting. Some think it best just to move on.
Directed, with momentum, by Rachel O’Riordan.
‘IPHIGENIA IN SPLOTT’
EFFIE ………………………………………….SOPHIE MELVILLE
CREATIVE TEAM DESIGNER ………HAYLEY GRINDLE LIGHTING DESIGNER ………………………………… RACHEL MORTIMER SOUND DESIGNER ………………………………….SAM JONES
CASTING DIRECTOR …………………..KAY MAGSON, CDG COMPANY STAGE MANAGER……………………….CHARLOTTE UNWIN
AEA STAGE MANAGER ……………….VERONICA AGLOW *
The running time of Iphigenia in Splott is 80 minutes with no intermission.
Press: Karen Greco
(c) 2017 b Bob Shuman. All rights reserved.