Self Slaughter in Splott
“You owe me”
When talking about Iphigenia in Euripides we have to remember that she was the sacrifice required and decided by the gods for Agamemnon’s fleet to have a wind for them to set sail to wage war on Troy. This decision sparks the murder of Agamemnon by Iphigenia’s mother Clytemnestra and her son Orestes’s revenge. It is the slaughter of a child, one that has close parallels in other religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam in Abraham’s near sacrifice of his son Isaac in an obedience to God test.
The difference in Gary Owen’s Iphigenia in Splott is that Effie gets slaughtered by her own hand. Her life is binge drinking, sex, and stealing from her gran to fund this. She enjoys people looking away when they see her on the street. Splott is a run down part of the Welsh capital Cardiff.
Sophie Melville gives an accomplished and weighty monologue revived from 2015 with the same director Rachel O’Riordan and Hayley Grindle’s strip lighting set arranged as strip blinds as then. I have to separate her sterling performance from the writing
Seven years on, the audience are there to laugh at the outrageous nature of this miserable woman. Described as a NEET, “not in education nor employment nor training”, Effie swings between hangovers and binge drinking which she graphically describes using every sexual expletive there is repeatedly while the audience splurt out laughing.
From this foul-mouthed slut, skank (her own words) for the first twenty minutes, she later attempts redemption by being kind to an amputee ex-soldier by kissing what he describes as his ugly stump and having sex with him. Here we leave slummy Cardiff to get into the world of princesses and unicorns with Effie’s fantasy that she can spend the rest of her life with this man and “not be alone”.
It is a dramatic technique I first remember being used in the National Theatre of Scotland’s Black Watch. A group of foul mouthed, sexist squaddies eventually emerge as a magnificent fighting force with a long and honourable history tied to this country. (Imagine the reception of that production in these days of awareness of brutal colonial history?) It is turn around drama making you rethink first impressions. But it is also manipulative.
Effie‘s dreams of a future with her one legged, one night lover are shattered as her texts lie unanswered and her phone doesn’t ring. The news that he doesn’t want to see her comes via another squaddie with a double sting as to his unavailability and the impact on him of their sexual intercourse.
There is also the effect on her, not a woman preparing herself to give birth to a healthy baby, going into premature labour on an understaffed labour ward. Now the NHS is at fault and when she chooses not to sue for a minimum of £260,000 for the death of a very premature baby she tells us we owe her! The audience can stop laughing and instead blame the underfunded NHS. Though how the NHS is to get funded from Effie’s contributions is a mystery.
So is this play really about the funding of the NHS or the willingness of ambulance chasing legals to scalp every penny out of the Health Service? No wonder junior doctors are reluctant to go into obstetrics and gynaecology because of the legal battles.
As you may tell this “how our government lets people like Effie down” drama is not one I relish.
Perhaps she has a future as a sex therapist for amputees?
Iphigenia in Splott
Written by Gary Owen
Directed by Rachel O’Riordan
Director: Rachel O’Riordan
Designer: Hayley Grindle
Lighting Designer: Rachel Mortimer with Hayley Grindle
Sound Designer: Sam Jones
Running Time: One hour 15 minutes without an interval
Booking to 22nd Octobber 2022