Modern take on tragic tale wins drama prize

A Greek tragedy reimagined in modern-day Cardiff has won the James Tait Black Prize for Drama.

Gary Owen’s one-woman monologue, Iphigenia in Splott, is the fourth play to win the £10,000 prize.

The accolade  is awarded annually by the University in association with Playwrights’ Studio, Scotland and the Traverse Theatre.

Glittering ceremony

The news was announced on Monday 22 August by playwright and director David Greig at an award ceremony in Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre.

The winning drama was first produced by Sherman Theatre in May 2015, when it received critical acclaim.

A performance of Iphigenia in Splott by Gary Owen
Photo of a performance of Iphigenia in Splott by Gary Owen

Rousing drama

Welsh playwright Gary Owen drew his inspiration from a Greek myth, in which King Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter, Iphigenia, to allow his ships to sail to Troy.

Iphigenia in Splott centres on Effie, a foul-mouthed, aggressive young woman living in Cardiff, who drinks excessively and lives for nights out. Throughout the monologue, she tells the story of her meeting an ex-soldier and how that led her life to unravel.         

Effie’s vulnerability is revealed as she becomes reliant on an under-resourced National Health Service. The tragedy climaxes with a rallying cry against austerity measures. 

Inspiring shortlist

Gary Owen’s drama topped a shortlist that included two other plays: People, Places and Things by Duncan Macmillan and hang by debbie tucker green.

Duncan Macmillan’s tragi-comedy tells the story of an actress whose life has spun recklessly out of control, while hang is set in a near future where victims of crime can decide their perpetrator’s punishment.

Iphigenia in Splott is a magnificent piece of work that deeply affected everyone who saw it. Gary Owen perfectly hit a moment in time and in Effie gave us an epic roar of a character, reflecting back to us the painful reality and legacy of austerity hit Britain. It is a worthy winner from a brilliant and inspirational shortlist.

Orla O’LoughlinArtistic Director at the Traverse Theatre

Distinguished prize

The accolade was launched in 2012 when Britain’s oldest book awards, the James Tait Black Prizes, were extended to include a new category for drama.

Judges seek to celebrate originality in playwriting. The panel includes students and academics from the University of Edinburgh, representatives from the Traverse Theatre, Playwrights’ Studio, Scotland and Schaubuhne Theatre in Berlin – a major hub of new playwriting in Europe. 

Previous winners of the James Tait Black Prize for Drama include Gordon Dahlquist’s sci-fi thriller Tomorrow Come Today (2015), Rory Mullarkey’s first full-length play, Cannibals (2014) and acclaimed drama The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning (2013) by Tim Price.

Gary Owen’s Effie is wonderfully written: the snarling, fierce and witty young woman makes audiences laugh, cry and stand up to revolt. Iphigenia in Splott goes to the heart of what this award aims to do – recognise innovation in playwriting – and I am delighted it won this year’s prize.

Chair of the judging panel, Greg WalkerRegius Professor of Rhetoric and English Literature at the University of Edinburgh

Related links

The James Tait Black Prizes

Study playwriting at the University

Playwrights' Studio Scotland

The Traverse Theatre

Gary Owen

Sherman Theatre