Monday, 1 February 2016

REVIEW - Iphigenia in Splott, National Theatre

Sophie Melville as Effie. Photo credit Mark Douet


IT is not often that a stage show has such a profound effect on me that it reduces me to tears but that is what happened when I saw Iphigenia in Splott at the National’s Temporary Theatre.
I am not sure why this happened exactly. But what I do know is that it was an extraordinary performance by Sophie Melville as Effie, a 20 something Welsh lass with a story to tell.
She comes strutting onto the stage in her trainers, peroxide blonde hair, lycra leggings, crop top and hoodie, full of attitude and gobby to boot.
She settles herself down on one of the three chairs on the stage that is surrounded by strip lights and announces to the audience that we “owe her”. What we owe her isn’t immediately clear but over the next 80 minutes or so she weaves her story with such clarity and emotion that she has us all captivated and totally absorbed in the palm of her hand.
So much so that when the end comes it is as though we are wacked in the face by the sheer brutality of it.
Of course I should have seen it coming but that’s the beauty of the writing. It gripped me from the off and by the time it was over I was sobbing quietly as I left the theatre.
Written by Gary Owen it is based on the Greek myth of King Agamemnon sacrificing his daughter. In Owen's piece it is set in Wales - though it could have been anywhere - and is a commentary on Britain today.
Effie rages against the system, men, the drink, drugs and the decisions that are made in her name.
At the beginning she is like any other disaffected young person, angry and fed up – no job, seemingly no prospects and living with flat mate Leanne and sleeping with her on off boyfriend Kevin. Trouble is she’s not happy. She uses drink and drugs to get through the week until one day she goes to a club and meets a nice man – or at least she thinks he is.
He’s a war veteran, having lost half his leg in an IED explosion. Spending the night with him for the first time she doesn’t feel alone. She feels loved, safe, secure and happy and while she doesn’t say so it’s clear she’s fallen for him completely – she could be in love.
However, while she thinks it's something more, he clearly only wanted a one night stand. Their liaison triggers a series of events including what happens when Effie finds out she’s pregnant with his baby.
It is heartbreaking, sad, funny and emotional. In fact going through it all is like being on a rollercoaster as Effie shows us her vulnerability railing against the under-resourced NHS, the loss of society and the Government's austerity measures. It is a swipe at the loss of what gives people reason to live.
I won’t spoil the ending, save to say that it packs a powerful punch and I challenge you not to leave the theatre touched deeply by what you have seen.

Iphigenia in Splott is on at the National's Temporary Theatre, South Bank until Saturday, February 20. Tickets cost £15. Visit or call the box office on 020 7452 3000.  

Sophie Melville as Effie. Photo credit Mark Douet

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