Salty Irina @ Summerhall

Salty Irina's tale of community resistance to the far-right is admirable and exciting, but its sheer scope results in a curiously muted production

Review by Josephine Balfour-Oatts | 05 Sep 2023
  • Salty Irina

At the heart of Eve Leigh’s play Salty Irina is the power of community, and the potential for queerness as a model of resistance. After a string of fatal, racially-motivated attacks targeting immigrant shopkeepers, Eirini (Yasemin Özdemir) and Anna (Hannah van der Westhuysen) recount the murder that marked the morning of their meeting. Frustrated by a lack of police action, they resolve to infiltrate a local far-right music festival in an attempt to identify the perpetrators for themselves.

The pair bring each other into being through an intriguing blend of narration and dialogue. The action is dynamic, almost dizzying. There are minimal props and set pieces throughout; changes in lighting, seen together with stylised movement sequences, signal a shift between narrative beats. Scenes featuring sex are realised beautifully, under careful direction by Debbie Hannan.

Underpinning the workings of the production is Francesca Knight. She multi-roles, contributing to world building, providing Eirini and Anna with their disguises, and taking them away just as quickly. Knight also disrupts the generous, lyrical delivery style that characterises the beginning of the play, transforming the mood onstage when she steps into the character of Jana, a far-right official.

That the setting remains unspecified is simultaneously a strength (it is a sad truth that racist violence occurs everywhere, all of the time) and a weakness. However, tying Salty Irina to a true-to-life event might help to ground and justify proceedings (currently, Eirini and Anna risk their own, and each other’s safety, with a disturbing and unrealistic lack of concern for the consequences).

In using Eirini and Anna’s relationship as a device to explore the leftist struggle against far-right ideology, Salty Irina is romantic in its approach to grassroots politics. The play attempts to tackle a spectrum of human rights issues and identity discourses, and though its core values and themes of meaningful radical action are admirable, its sheer scope makes for a curiously muted production overall.

Salty Irina, Summerhall (Roundabout), run ended