Review: Iphigenia (Hope Theatre)

This experimental piece of theatre, written and directed by Elsie Yager, takes the Greek tragedy of Iphigenia of Aulis and places her in the modern world.

With her dolls, lipstick, nail polish and Tinder swipes, she’s like any other young woman passing through her teens – she grows, rebels and reflects before our eyes.

The difference is her family have earmarked her for a morbid marriage to death, and she has little choice in the matter.

The Hope’s auditorium has been painted a deep red to suggest the blood sacrifice required to appease the gods.

A white bed is set against a white space: against this is projected the docunentary testimony of women interviewed by Yager who make up the chorus.

Iphigenia herself says little, but writes a lot. When we take our seats, she is already in situ, a heart scrawl of ‘Helen and Izzy 4Eva’ on the wall.

She dresses up, thinks a lot, hides under her duvet, and spills out her thoughts on to the screen, wall and floor – at one point generating a huge lists of pros to justify her death all about duty, choice, heroism and the happiness of others.

The chorus also talk of the expectations of women: sexuality, race, culture, gender fluidity all playing a part. Their faces are projected in extreme close-up, their voices sometimes distorted.

A typed prompt here and there gives us a bit of the story, but this is mainly a sad tale given a new spin. As where you choose to sit will inform the experience you have, I felt unsure this was in the right venue.

I can see this as a very intimate installation, or a split-screen digital production. The introduction of Clymenestra (Alice Lee) so late in the piece felt like an afterthought, a puzzle piece that didn’t quite fit.

Two moments caught me: this condemned girl’s list of two cons against giving up her life; and her frenzied frustration after being told of her fate.

At just a little less than an hour, this has little room to flag. On the night I visited, I noted the sound sometimes sounded distorted but am informed that was a technical glitch that should now be fixed.

I did admire the performance of Karen Barredo in the title role: she says little but does much. It’s a heartbreaking solo of silence.

Ultinately, Iphigenia is a fascinating piece which has lots of ideas about how women are treated, and where their choices lie, but it stops just short of being as emotionally engaging as it should be.

You can watch Iphigenia at the Hope Theatre until 28 Jan – ticket link


Image credit: Luan Davide Gray