Sherman Cymru, Cardiff
Directed by Sherman Cymru’s Rachel O’Riordan, Iphigenia in Splott is an undeniably powerful piece of theatre, interlacing exceptional writing and phenomenal acting to create a world and character that will break your heart. Thematically, the timing of the piece is extraordinary; focusing on such pertinent issues as the state of the NHS, the predicament of the working class and the ever increasing cuts, this stunning one-woman play could scarcely be more relevant to the current climate, particularly in the wake of the election. As the Conservative win sends waves of despair over Britain, Sophie Melville as the dark and destructive Effie, single-handedly manages to encapsulate the raw emotion and heartache of an entire nation in her own tragic tale.
Slouched in her over-sized hoodie and skin tight leggings, a messy blonde bun bouncing atop her head with every word she spits out in her sharp Splott accent, Effie could have swaggered straight off the streets of Cardiff and into the dim light of the studio. With her foul language, boastful tales of ‘proper, brain-shredding, three day bastards’ of a hangover and endless drama, Effie is a sadly all too recognisable character from today’s society, yet coupled with her vulnerability and hilarious diatribes, it is impossible not to love her. She is played to perfection by the wonderful Sophie Melville.
It can be a hard enough task to beguile an audience with all the trappings of a huge production, but for one actress to captivate an entire audience for almost ninety minutes, with only three chairs and a few strategically placed strip lights in the way of set, is nothing short of astounding. Melville is fearless in her portrayal of Effie, a young girl caught in a vicious cycle of drugs, drink and drama, effortlessly controlling the pace of the piece and keeping the audience in the palm of her hand. Her timing is impeccable and her delivery so natural, it is easy to forget she is following a script.
Welsh playwright Gary Owen has birthed a masterpiece in his creation of Iphigenia in Splott. Inspired by the Greek myth’s theme of sacrifice, Owen merges ‘coarse poetry with the language intrinsic to Splott’, creating long passages of rhyme which have a beautiful cadence to them without sounding exaggerated;
Because you’ll be day one in bed, crying and wishing you were dead,
Onto the settee for day two, sweating into your duvet, eating twenty pee noodles,
Watching whatever shit comes on Dave Ja Vu.
Littered with pop-culture references and mentioning well-known local spots such as Las Iguanas, St Mary’s Street and ‘the big Tescos’, Iphigenia in Splott has a distinct sense of place, yet the play’s far-reaching themes ensure its universality – not even a week into its run, it has already been selected to feature in the British Council Showcase at Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2015.
Whilst this particular tragedy is a work of fiction, very real variations of Effie’s story are happening throughout the UK and it is this reflection of real life in which the true power of the piece lies. We do not cry only for Effie, but for every person she represents. In the honesty and rawness of both Melville’s acting and Owen’s writing, we recognise the suffering of a class of people who form a huge part of society and it is heart-breaking to realise. Effie is a product of her environment, a casualty of the system and it is a very real system, set to cast its shadow for the next 5 years.
photo credit requested.