As recommendations go ‘second best play I’ve ever seen’ is high praise indeed, it does beg the question what play was first. Loosely based in Greek mythology Gary Owen’s deeply moving monologue Iphigenia in Splott is as timely a piece of theatre, as it is brilliant. With poverty porn dominating the tv schedule and programme executives desperate to find another hard luck story to dramatise, this is one story that is far from formulaic.
A searing performance by Sophie Melville as ‘Effie’ the foul-mouthed aggressive drunk from a Cardiff suburb. She will leave you breathless, as your mind wrestles with the sheer weight of the drama. How can so much be going on, in what is such a small town story?
Throughout the play I found myself renegotiating my emotional investment in Effie as every ten minutes her entire world shifted. ‘You’re just a chavvy bitch,’ might be your first response as she swaggers on stage dressed in a scruffy hoody and leggings, swearing and pointing the finger at everyone but herself. ‘Your life is in the gutter, you drink too much and spend all your time wrecked love, you might say hurriedly passing her on the street.
Then she meets someone in a pub, that someone is a soldier, an amputee who has lost half his leg from an IED. For the first time in her life Effie begins to believe in something, someone. She describes an overwhelming feeling of not being alone anymore. All of a sudden I find myself cheering for her, hoping against hope that she doesn’t screw it up.
As well as the re-interpreted Greek echoes: Iphigenia is killed by her father Agamemnon, in return for favourable winds for the Greek ships trapped in Aulis – the bard is ever present too with a very definite pound of flesh being paid.
Sophie Melville’s performance is incredible to watch, I swear her face continually changed shape. When Effie was trying, really trying, she looked almost angelic. She broke hearts as each tear ran down her cheek.
The lighting and production by Rachel O’ Riordan had something to do with those subtle changes, there were moments when she really did look like, she had a halo around her head. Extraordinary use of what is normally viewed as cold unforgiving strip lighting. It is as if she were not just one woman, but all women.
And as I write it, I see it… Effie is a Christ figure bathed in white light, she is the sacrificial lamb for the modern age.
So it’s about salvation? No, no it’s not. So it’s about violence? No, no it’s not. It’s about revenge then? No. It’s not. It is about something else, something deeper.
Presented by Sherman Cymru Iphigenia in Splott runs at Hull Truck 22 – 24 March
Company site: http://www.shermancymru.co.uk/