Iphigenia In Splott
4 stars ****
Pleasance Dome (Venue 23)
SOMETIMES, it takes a really great piece of writing – an Oliver Twist, say, or a View From The Bridge – to challenge a climate of vicious indifference to the lives of poor people; and to reaffirm the truth of human equality by creating stories of tragic and epic scale, set in ordinary working-class communities. Gary Owen’s terrific new monologue for Cardiff’s Sherman Cymru Theatre may not quite be up there with Dickens and Arthur Miller; its scale is smaller, and its no-holds-barred depiction of a life marked out in drinking binges and hangovers is mirrored in many other monologues on this year’s Fringe.
Yet at its core, Iphigenia In Splott uses that same leap of imagination to blow apart our assumptions about Effie, a hard-drinking, unemployed “slag” living on a Cardiff councl estate whose life is changed by an intense one-night stand with a severely wounded ex-soldier, which leaves her pregnant, and set on a roller-coaster of new experience that leads her to strange new depths of love, grief, despair and self-sacrifice.
The texture of the writing is fast, sharp and completely gripping; this is one of those monologues with a descriptive narrative so vivid that it leaves the audience feeling as if it’s seen a 75-minute film, rolled out inside our minds.
The intensity of the experience, though, owes as much to Rachel O’Riordan’s flawless production, as to the text. From Hayley Grindle’s sharp, understated design, through Rachel Mortimer’s lighting and Sam Jones’s sound, to Sophie Melville’s stunning performance as Effie, every detail of this productiion shines with a rare quality of emotional intensity and precision. And it leaves us in no doubt that Effie’s journey is an epic one, shot through with as much beauty and pain as the tale of Agamemnon’s daughter herself; and with as great a sense that her story forms the prologue to a battle yet to come – a war not between Greeks and Trojans, but between rich and poor, over the wealth of the nation, and how communities like Effie’s now seem to be losing even the modest share of it they could once call their own.