Edinburgh Fringe 2015
Effie is the kind of girl you’d avoid eye contact with, as you silently passing judgement. We think we know her, but we don’t know half of it. Effie’s life spirals through a mess of drink, drugs and drama every night – till one night gives her the chance to be something more.
‘What gets me through is knowing I took this pain and saved all of you from suffering the same.’ Effie is the kind of girl you’d avoid eye contact with, silently passing judgement. This solo play by Gary Owen performed by Sophie Melville forces us to remember that behind every one of those faces is a personal and often painful story.
Iphigenia in Splott premiered in its home town of Cardiff to rapturous reviews in May. It is a modern reworking of the Greek myth in which Iphigenia, daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra in Greek mythology, is sacrificed to allow her father’s ships to sail to Troy. Or not, depending on which version you read – in some she is spared at the last moment and a deer or goat dies instead.
In this high octane version the links to Greek mythology aren’t entirely clear until the end and even then it is the sort of play to carry on thinking about or discussing long after you have left the theatre.
Iphigenia (Effie) is a young woman for whom life in the Cardiff suburb of Splott offers little beyond boasting about her three day hangovers and grumbling about her sort of boyfriend Kev (check) until one night when, overcome by lust, life takes a very different turn and she has the chance to prove she can be something else.
Gary Owens writing is poetic (much of the script is verse) and lyrical infused with the rhythms and cadences of the local Welsh dialect. It is probably rather more eloquent than a real life Effie would be but the juxtaposition of coarse poetry and blisteringly realistic moments somehow feels completely authentic and gives us a larger than life Effie ‘Cos I live my life a million miles an hour, do what I like, when I like’.
It is dense with meaning and impossible to take in in one viewing. Especially as Sophie Melville delivers it at a rate of knots. The pacing is superb as she rattles through the verse at one point but draws out every syllable and ounce of meaning at another. Melville began a little quietly (it was only the second performance in that space) but soon gained in power until you would have heard a pin drop.
The set is a masterpiece of simplicity: cold white fluorescent lighting tubes that are lit to suggest different spaces whilst at the same time underlining the stark reality of Effie’s life. A couple of chairs provide the rest of the set and are used so flexibly you would be forgiven for thinking there were dozens of them.
The King Dome at Pleasance is quite a large space for such an intimate piece. The end on seating, despite being raked, is tricky if you find yourself behind a tall person. It detracted a little from the intimacy of the piece – so arrive early to be sure of a seat near the front.
This is undoubtedly one of this year’s ‘do not miss’ shows.