Iphigenia in Splott

Lyric Hammersmith, London, W6.

Sophie as Effie!

🍷🍷🍷🍷 🥃 (4 glasses out of 5, PLUS a shot !)

It’s always a novelty going to see a play with a name you find hard to pronounce! But having done a bit of research (you’re welcome!) it turns out the story is based, as so many brilliant stories are, on an Ancient Greek myth. And Splott is in Wales.

So good, so classical. But there is a burning contemporary edge to this story. Set in Wales, the modern name for our heroine is Effie… a Slapper and Dirty Skank. Although, of course, she is neither of these.

To be honest, I always get a bit nervous, when ‘working-class’ characters are presented through the prism of largely middle-class theatre practitioners. And this does miss a few beats and isn’t perfect — we occasionally lose some of the dialogue — but generally writer Garry Owen has created a classic character that I identify with as working-class myself. I instantly recognised and sympathised with the frustration of few opportunities, lack of self-worth and over compensation for an emptiness many working class people feel. And how a couple of events changes Effie’s life.

Sophie Melville gives a great performance that mixes elements of a wild Irvine Welsh character and a still Alan Ayckbourn monologue. Indeed, having just returned from the home of one-person shows, the Edinburgh Fringe, (where this show appeared some time ago) it is full of paradoxes: a monologue constrained by singularity through its form, but a production which feels peopled by an entire Welsh town. And an epic tragedy captured by a white working-class woman with no hint of ‘Vicky Pollard’ despite her scraped-back hair, snarls, three day piss-ups, hangovers and street brawls. She is eminently ordinary but exceptional in her heroism, too. And director Rachel O’Riordan must take credit for her pacing and variation of the piece — and of course, for commissioning Gary Owen’s lyrical script back in 2015.

It’s a modern classic in a beautiful theatre and feels even more relevant now than when it was first created in Austerity Britain. The play is brutally effective in depicting the human cost of the cuts and closures and ends on a note of accusatory fury. Yet its politics are surprisingly subtle.

The name may be a bit confusing, but this is a quality piece that makes perfect sense. Go see it.

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