The title: In Greek Mythology, when Agamemnon accidentally kills a deer in a grove sacred to Artemis,, he must sacrifice his eldest daughter, Iphigenia. The story has many iterations. In some, she meets her death, in others the girl is turned into a goddess, in still others, she’s rescued. Splott is a district in Cardiff.
“…See I know what you think
When you see me pissed first thing wandering around. You think –
Stupid slag. Nasty skank.
But guess what? Tonight
You all are here to give thanks
Yeah I know it’s a shock.
But you lot, every single one
You’re in my debt…”
Effie (Sophie Melville) is a contemporary young hellion with a working class Welsh accent (for the most part, you’ll acclimate), a seriously foul mouth, and enough hair-trigger fury to face down a detainee at Riker’s Island Prison. Living off her Nan and probably welfare, she parties, gets wasted, sleeps around like an animal in heat (lately, it’s Kevin), recovers and begins again.
One night, at a disco, Effie sends Kevin to wait for her in a bathroom stall and commandeers a disabled soldier. She finds everything about the experience unexpected, from his buddies’ gentlemanly behavior to Tom’s own pain, self defense, discretion, and mutilated form. Her behavior, in turn, is completely surprising. For the first time in Effie’s hardscrabble life, she no longer feels alone. Love floods into her as if a dam busted. Days and nights assume new shape. Familiar consequences and shocking redemption = sacrifice follow.
Because the play is compressed into 80 jam packed minutes (and this actress is electric), every minute takes on urgency. We have neither time nor space to ask why or whether. Tension is maintained, yet never static. Author Gary Owen knows his suibject backwards. The piece contains neither false word nor move. Effie’s alterations are oddly realistic after kickstarted. Speed of turnaround causes whiplash, but we take the trip. Owen’s bookended “theme” is inspired.
Sophie Melville is hypnotic. Wincing and appalled, our audience is riveted. The theater drops away. All we see and hear is this wounded, unrepentant, debauchee going nowhere on a hamster wheel. When sympathy is finally evoked it almost blindsides. Melville has knowledge and control of her utterly flexible instrument from voice to expression to physicality. She gives from the gut, dares greatly with this role, and succeeds.
Director Rachel O’Riordan displays Effie’s volatility with as much variation as bite. What gets under the heroine’s skin, gets under ours. With only chairs and the light sculpture off which to play, physical moves border on choreography. Timing is pitch perfect. Change surreptitious. Masterfully executed.
Hayley Grindle’s Neon Light Design, a busted sculpture of narrow tubes, strewn, and irregularly lit, works wonderfully to punctuate the start/stop of the heroine’s emotions. Lighting Designer Rachel Mortimer’s contributions symbiotically feature and abort vignettes.
Sound Designer Sam Jones offers an insidious underscore of tone.
Photos by Mark Douet
Sherman Theatre, Cardiff presents
Iphigenia in Splott by Gary Owen
Featuring Sophie Melville
Directed by Rachel O’Riordan
59 East 59th Street
Through June 4, 2017