Effie Samara: ‘Iphigenia is back and she’s ready to play’

Playwright Effie Samara talks about the motivations behind her new play, Baby, ahead of its run at the Hope Theatre which begins next week.

Writing BABY would, only a few decades ago, have been a serious offence. A married surgeon defies convention, defies inherent female guilt, defies the norm, the storm and the law and impregnates herself with a colleague's sperm. The pivotal point of this play is the perennial tragedy and the bloodied comedy of the female body. In the male, the body politic coincides with the body natural. In the female, it doesn't. Regardless of what the body politic may be striving to achieve, the body natural will always be its greatest obstacle, its highest attribute and its fiercest foe. Put simply: if you have a womb, you can't really be excused for asking for much else. And the womb and its workings are regulated by laws, covenants and traditions more onerous than premeditated murder itself. Of course we're all guilty for permitting it to happen. Our mothers love us just as ferociously as they annihilate every shred of our existence, our sisters support us as angrily as they stab us, and our female mentors enlighten us as viciously as they turn on us when we're suspected of fineness or superiority. As women, we're only allowed what is permissible within limits strictly set by our female peers. Anything surplus to that amounts to ancestral sin and must be ripped out of us.

BABY is not a play about victimhood. Enough ink has been expended on that and it merits little consideration. BABY is about self-determination and how gratifying it is to live that moment of self-determination; that moment of unifying the body politic and the body natural in absolute harmony. And let's agree harmony is mess. We pretend that we are fond of rules and regulations but as humans, our neurotransmitters love sweat, laughter, tears, electricity – we love mess. We love, we lust, we breed, birth and die in a state of mess. The greatest moments of human history are to be found at the end of bloodied revolutions, unjust arrests and torture, at the precipice of convulsion and dislocation of a previous order. Orders are ordered by humans habitually for their own benefit and that of their immediate circles. The protagonist, Antonia, outwits the orderly and the given. And that is where her stoning begins; by her very fiercely devoted mother, her colleagues and, of course, "the intellectuals". Intellectuals have the power to enlighten and educate but history has shown us that they're also deployed to sugar the pill of hatred and division like no other can. Let's not forget it was a bunch of "intellectuals" only a few years ago who championed Hitler's "scientific" eugenics in Hartheim and Hadamar. Intellectuals are deployed today to produce statistics about how much more useful it would be to let a boat full of African men, women and babies sink because they have transgressed what intellectuals deem to be the remit of "maritime laws". The use of a chorus of "intellectuals" is deliberate in BABY, and the chaos of it fantastically echoes Aeschylean Erinyes; those exclusively female chthonic deities of vengeance who won't let us forget we were born with an inverted anatomy and will not let us love it. Professor Antonia Innes-Kerr is totally a woman; she's totally phallic, totally vaginal and clitoral, totally devoted to her medicine and totally a sorceress of the kind most likely to arouse the hatred of a woman given to guilt and submission. The woman who enlightens Antonia's path is the unsuspected stranger, the simple mummy at the park whose humble prophesies will be Antonia's Delphic oracle. "Next Wednesday, you make sure you give it one shot. And if it don't happen, at least you know it weren't meant to". Pythia knows what "the intellectuals" are too busy trying to stop and Antonia is fortunate enough to give into her. Alternating between the different female psyches proved to be a joy full of mysteries and secrets yielded slowly by the pen and the voices of women and men involved in the workshopping process. And alternating between surrealism and the plausible was equally a challenge, an urge and a necessity.

Anatomy informs history as poignantly as Marxist life informs consciousness. And the use of precise anatomical physiology of the clitoris is a reply and hopefully a continuation of the vaginal monologue's debate. We're very frightened of our own sovereignty. At the cusp of a post-Thatcherite polis where the rise of hatred for the Other is officially cloaked as political correctness and the naturalness of human behaviour needs to be "cured" in the name of uniformity and ultimately in the name of what promises to be the dawn of 21 century "gentle fascism" across Europe, we must not allow fear of the Other to shadow the best achievements of human history. As women, we're very anxious once again to appear "neutral", whatever that means. Antonia is not; she sheds her austere male suit for a frilly number and she lusts after her husband with the same fervour as she copulates with her Spanish lover. She is Clytemnestra's daughter who has forgiven her King for sacrificing Iphigenia but is ready to implement her own rules in her own kingdom. The play travels through the trajectory of three Baptisms. A renaming of a little girl, a re-birth of Antonia's dying patient and Antonia's naming of her own daughter. It ends with the conclusion of Antonia's Baptism of Fire. Iphigenia was never sacrificed. She's back and she's ready to play.

Our history has so far not been served by our mothers nor our sisters. We are our own worst enemies. If we dedicated ourselves a little more to excellence and a little less to our own destruction, we might just be able to avoid a big collision with our own bodies and our own politics. We might just be able to elevate our quest and reach for the stars. They're a lot closer that we think they are.

© Effie Samara, 2015

Catch Baby at the Hope Theatre, 207 Upper Street, Islington, London, N1 1RL, from 14th April to 2nd May (Tuesday – Saturday, 7.45pm). Tickets £14 (£12 concessions). For info and booking, visit: http://www.thehopetheatre.com/productions/baby/.

About the author: Effie Samara read Law at Reading University and Creative Writing at Cambridge. She is currently on her final year of Royal Central School of Speech and Drama’s M.F.A. Writing for Stage and Broadcast Media. Her work has been read by the Studio of the National Theatre and the Synergy project. She was also shortlisted for the Paul Darby Prize for Playwriting. Productions include: SARTRE (Tristan Bates); Brief History of the World, Bad Girl (Paul Webber Studio & Bread and Roses Theatre). Baby is Effie’s first full length production.

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