Gary Owen’s Iphigenia in Splott premiered at the Sherman Theatre in Cardiff five years ago, before transferring to London and a National Theatre temporary space, before ending up with an off-Broadway run. The production, directed by Rachel O’Riordan, is released in audio format as an Audible Studio recording.
The Iphigenia in Greek myth is a heroine who makes the ultimate sacrifice to save others. At first glance our Iphigenia (Effie), who resides in the Splott area of Cardiff, couldn’t be more different to her mythical counterpart. “I’m a slag” she tells us in aggressive tones, as unabashedly she confesses to hiding vodka bottles in her underwear, burping in the faces of bar managers, and throwing up in the Chicken Cottage.
Within minutes of listening to Sophie Melville’s portrayal of Effie, you’ll start to feel contempt towards this blot on the landscape of society. She comes at us filled with a rage and fury that is palpable, and as an audience we find ourselves defensive and disgusted in equal measures.
On one drink fuelled night, Effie meets a former soldier, and despite having a boyfriend goes home with this new man. Lee has been through war, and before they engage in carnal passion they share their injuries and scars, Lee’s are physical, Effie’s psychological.
The second half of the monologue deals with the consequences of that night. Effie becomes pregnant, and defies all expectations by deciding to keep the child. The boyfriend, grandmother and friend all rally round in some way or another, and suddenly we start to see Effie as a human being, suddenly we have empathy for this loud-mouthed, brazen chav.
As we move through Effie’s pregnancy things become trickier, and the emotion starts to overpower us, until eventually we see our Iphigenia in Splott more aligned to the Greek heroine. The ending comes perhaps a little to fast, with too much left unsaid, but we’ve heard enough to know that our opinions of this girl have changed.
Sophie Melville is excellent as Effie, the lines delivered in the early part of the play spew out with enough vitriol to get our backs up, but when the time for change comes, we can still be on board with it.
Iphigenia in Splott delivers what theatre should, an intriguing character which the audience joins on a journey of discovery. It’s been five years since the play premiered, and yet it feels like Iphigenias across the country are still being forced to make sacrifices at the hands of capitalism, this remains a state of the nation play with eye-opening candour.