I was on an airplane, flying back to the States from Heathrow. I had stopped, as is my habit, at the National Theatre Bookstore before heading back, and purchased my weight in playscripts.
The first one I decided to read was Gary Owen’s Iphigenia in Splott. The title intrigued me because I knew little of the Greek myth, and even less about a place called ‘Splott’.
When I finished reading the slender text, I all but cheered (not kidding). “This is it,” I thought. This is the play for this precise moment in history. The moment was the summer of 2016. Brexit had recently happened, and the US was careening toward the most boneheaded political decision in our nation’s history … which is saying something.
I read it again. It seemed (and still seems) to be a play for this moment in time. It is a play that asks its audience to fully immerse itself in the day to day choices that a young person from a lower class background, lacking anything like what we might call a ‘safety net’, is asked to make every day.
We see in the play how Effie’s anger and fear and frustration is translated into fury at those around her, those suffering just as much as is she, but who, in her mind, are part of the problem.
Finally, finally the character is able to see the systemic issues that pose unremittingly violent opposition to her growth as a person, her physical and emotional well being, and ultimately even her life.
“Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” are ideas we Americans are promised from an early age. The first of those is “life.”
That means health care, it means child care (so that we are attended to in the early, formative years), it means education and it means that the deck will not be stacked against us at every hand, so that we can at least hope to compete with the elites of our society, those for whom competing is a much simpler and less stressful proposition.
I got off the plane, determined to do Iphigenia in Splott at the first possible moment, and am now extremely happy at the opportunity to take it to our nation’s capital, where it might stand a chance of doing some real good.
Actor Chloe Oliver answers the question “Why this play now?”
Jerome Davis is the director of Iphigenia in Splott and the founding artistic director of Burning Coal Theatre Company. Burning Coal is a not-for-profit [501 (3) (c)] based in Raleigh, NC which develops literate, visceral, affecting theatre that is experienced, not simply seen.