Review Iphigenia In Splott, Sherman Theatre by Beth Clark

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I give absolute credit to the author Gary Owen for connecting the two stories of current troubles with the historic tale of “The Sacrifice of Iphigenia” (17th century – greek mythology). The story depicts Agamemnon‘s sacrifice of his daughter Iphigenia in order to save the army of Troy. Her name has been noted to mean “strong-born”, “born to strength”, or “she who causes the birth of strong offspring”.

‘Iphigenia in Splott’ was performed in the Sherman Studio theatre. It’s somewhat small and dark compared to the main theatre at the Sherman, but that made the performance more personal and intimate.The solo star of the show “Effie” appears on stage with absolute impact. The disoriented lights on the stage bellowed out and the audience is on edge. I for one was excited and was surprised as to how effective the monologue style of performance was!

Effie is angry, hyped, she’s shouting at us the audience, “You lot, sitting back, taking it easy, waiting for me”, I was shocked! “To – what? Impress you? Amaze you? Show you what I’ve got?” Then goes on to say, “well I’m afraid not!!” Effie seems like she doesn’t care what the audience thinks of her. “She knows what YOU think”, directing the statement to the audience, or as she’s telling the story; the people in the street who see her drunk in the morning, the people who cannot look her in the eye!!

I feel as if I am a person in the street as well as a person of the audience, it creates a three-dimensional presence. She continues to run herself down and  says “you think” of her using cringe worthy language that provokes shock throughout the theatre. She refers to “you lot” again, being the audience/slash people in the street, “every single one”, “you’re in my debt” “I’ve come to collect”. I was confused, in her debt?…The kind of threat like “your in my debt” is something you would not like to have said to you by some raging woman on the street, the character evokes feelings of fear and caution towards her with this don’t care, I’m in control attitude.

Sophie Melville (Effie) is a powerful actress with a strong stage presence and both Effie and Sophie both being powerful, have my full attention. After the first scene, I was asking myself questions and instantly wanted to know more. Why was Effie so troubled? And what has happened to her for her to display this hostile attitude?

Effie is unemployed and shares a flat in Splott, urban Cardiff, with her friend Leanne. She drinks and takes drugs and has a boyfriend that she does not speak very highly of called Kevin. She talks about her Nan. I notice that in the play at first instance and as from what I can remember she does not give any mention to her parents. Maybe a breakdown in her family structure as like so many others in her age group/area has got her in this position? Maybe? But I don’t think this is the only reason Effie finds herself in this position in life. I believe there has been a multitude of short comings for this young girl.

This strong-willed character talks about a woman on the street and there are scenes where she is shouting at the woman and talking about the roots in her hair. I thought this attitude was uncaring and selfish as she doesn’t know the woman’s struggle. It could be the mere fact that this woman couldn’t afford hair dye as she was on a low-income struggling to survive but Effie doesn’t care about these details, they are irrelevant to her at this time. You are given the impression of a wayward woman with a terrible attitude towards the community, but also a wayward woman who feels the community does not care for her, highlighted by Effie giving the audience the finger. My impression of Effie surprisingly is sure to change throughout and this probably happened to the majority of people who have had the pleasure of watching this play.

One of the statements Effie makes in the play is; “Disaster, It’s Monday morning, and I’ve got a brain functioning on full power. That’s not normal, it is not normal. And it’s definitely not safe”. I get the impression that Effie feels stronger drunk but it begs the question; why cannot she deal with her life sober like so many other troubled people of her age who are living subject to social depression? And why are the people on Clifton Street unable to look at her, as she says “Face on I’m too much for you to handle”. This play is shockingly raw, but the truth is Effie is correct, most of these people cannot face her.

Through Effie’s struggles she meets a man on a Cardiff night out called Lee, he was a soldier and she instantly falls in love with him. When she meets Lee you instantly see a change in her characteristics. The loud, brassy, carefree and what seemed selfish Effie becomes compassionate. As the play progresses we learn more of Effie’s life and the consequences or her relationship with Lee. We see in her actions ways in which the playwright Gary Owen links this contemporary tale of sacrifice with the Greek myth “Iphigenia”.

Effie is an intelligent young girl but she does not have the knowledge or education to convey herself articulately.  The consequences of this are a a tragic series of events occurs and we heartbreakingly see in front of us the struggles we all face in the economy and how spending cuts on the NHS and similar cuts can affect us more closely than we care to imagine.

A serious question that is at the heart of the play is  What happens to the people or young persons who get rejected from the system, who do not conform? Are they now lost in system and forgotten? Let’s hope not and let’s hope that there is a follow on play, highlighting positive moves in Effie’s life.

I thoroughly enjoyed this play and can confirm that it has further inspired me to not judge people as you never know a person’s story or the struggles they face. ‘Don’t judge a book by it’s cover’ is a saying that most definitely springs to mind when thinking of the moral of this story. I can genuinely say I would definitely encourage more writing of this type at the Sherman Theatre.

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