Iphigenia in Splott

Gary Owen
Lyric Hammersmith Theatre
Lyric Hammersmith Theatre

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Sophie Melville as Effie Credit: Jennifer McCord
Sophie Melville as Effie Credit: Jennifer McCord
Sophie Melville as Effie Credit: Jennifer McCord

Effie is the kind of stranger you might avoid. Drunk, rude and potentially aggressive, she seems at odds with the world until one night in a pub she is drawn to Lee, an ex-soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress following his Afghanistan duty where he was seriously injured by an improvised explosive device.

We only get hints about the trauma which created Effie’s angry reaction to the world, but the intense night with Lee makes her feel she is no longer alone. That encounter has more of an impact on her than she imagined. For various reasons, it won't be followed by any but the most fragile connection with others.

However, this rich, fast-moving monologue spoken by Sophie Melville as Effie is about much more than a dysfunctional individual having an encounter with an injured soldier. The title of Iphigenia in Splott has implied as much with its association with the Greek tragedy of Iphigenia, who was murdered (some describe it as a sacrifice) by her father to spur on his ships to the greater slaughter of Troy.

Gary Owen’s play, named Best New Play at the UK Theatre Awards in 2015, makes Effie the child of a Welsh community suffering in terrible ways from the so-called austerity cuts of government. It isn’t those who run society who have to make sacrifices. Instead, it is the children of the existing British community who are being sacrificed and in effect murdered by the powerful in the interests of accumulating wealth.

There is poetic compassion for the characters in the writing which always held my attention. In the programme notes, the director Rachel O’Riordan describes it as, “a call to arms. It presents the impact of austerity and social injustice… It gives a platform to the voices of people who are demonised by society, who are not given opportunities in life to thrive.”

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna