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Iphegenia by Sophocles

translated by LADY Jane Lumley

The Rose Company in Lancaster Castle

‘Striking innovation and ancient tradition combine in a production of Lady Jane Lumley’s 1557 translation of Euripides’ play Iphigenia at Aulis staged in Lancaster Castle last week’, claimed a recent academic blog.

It also suggested that is very likely that this event was the first staging since the sixteenth century of a scarcely-known literary ‘first’.

Lumley’s Iphigenia is, as far as we know, the first dramatic work in English written by a woman.

Thus it was entirely suitable that last week’s performances were staged by The Rose Company, a new, all-women theatre group based in Lancaster.

The play tells of the plight of the Greek fleet in Aulis harbour as they are delayed by the weather in their quest to avenge the theft and debauchery of King Agamemnon’s wife Helen by the Trojan Paris.

So the gods will give them passage to their destiny, they demand the blood-sacrifice of the King’s daughter, Iphigenia.Inevitably in Greek Tragedy, nothing works out as expected; the participants are not only fallible mortals but also the quixotic divinities.

As usual a Chorus is on hand to explain and justify the action to the audience, and to encourage our responses.

The cast of 10 women, with some seamless doubling, delivered Lady Lumley’s vivid and surprisingly modern-sounding text with assured clarity and a finely-judged variety of dramatic flow.

Staged in the round, in the surprisingly resonant venue of the tour reception area and café, full use was made of all four possible entrances/exits.

The production gained from the sheer intimacy of the staging – the playing area was only about ten feet square.

This was more Elizabethan aristocratic mansion than Mediterranean amphitheatre.

For the audience on the night we went, this proximity gave a real sense of close involvement and palpable frisson in a timeless story that was as powerful 2,500 years ago, as it was in the early, turbulent years of the Queen Elizabeth the First, and is still none the less so in the latter years of the still war-torn reign of the Second of that name.

Michael Nunn