Cursed with one of the most outlandish titles in recent history, Iphigenia in Splott, a raucous monologue written by Gary Owen and performed by Sophie Melville, offers a loose reworking of the classic Greek myth of Iphigenia, relocated to the town of Splott (yes, it’s a real place!) just south of Cardiff. I can only take it on trust that the equally outlandish accent employed throughout is an accurate one. (As a native of Wales, I think I’m allowed to say that.)
Melville plays Effie, a local girl who lives her life with the volume turned all the way up to eleven. Too much booze, too much sex, too much vomiting – it’s her way of coping with boredom in a town where most of the stores and places of entertainment have been shut down or burned down, and where redemption can only be found at the bottom of an ice bucket full of vodka. Or is there more than that?
Effie experiences something suspiciously like a revelation when she encounters ex-soldier Lee at a local bar and plunges headlong into a no-holds barred one-night-stand with him. Effie is suddenly, hopelessly in love and, for the first time in years, she glimpses some genuine hope. Is she being wildly optimistic when she dares to dream of a bright new future?
Melville puts in a stellar performance here, spitting out her vehement, invective-splattered worldview with dazzling aplomb. It’s the kind of performance you’d expect to see at the Edinburgh Fringe, an hour’s worth of explosive drama that holds you in its vice-like grip from start to finish. And, towards the end, it becomes more than just Effie’s caustic point of view. Owen cleverly opens it out into a searing condemnation of current political thinking. The result is a powerful call to arms, a plea for politicians to consider the struggling strata of society that has been increasingly marginalised over the years.
The original Iphigenia, daughter of Agamemnon, was sacrificed to ensure the success of the men who governed her. Effie too, in her own way, becomes a sacrificial victim of those who have devastated both our health service and the everyday aspirations of the working class.
This is bleak but compelling, a piece that speaks its mind and takes no prisoners.