Iphigenia in Splott

Review: Iphigenia in Splott, Lyric Hammersmith

Review: Iphigenia in Splott, Lyric Hammersmith

Utterly engrossing.


Iphigenia was a daughter of King Agamemnon, innocently sacrificed to appease the angered gods. Iphigenia in Cardiff’s district of Splott is named Effie, and just like her ancient Greek counterpart, must be sacrificed to appease the system.  

It is rare for a one-person show to be so completely narrative-driven, so utterly engrossing. Effie is not exactly likable – the entire first part of the show she spends talking about her three-day hangovers, wild parties, mindless sex with neighbourhood chav Kevin and other hedonistic activities she eagerly partakes in. This is her world before Lee – and then, there’s her world after Lee. But this story is not one of the rainbows-and-unicorns kind.  

Pretty much nothing in Effie’s life – or this piece of her life she serves us on stage – works out to a satisfying conclusion. There’s no bang! and cheers from the audience, no revenge story, no new beginnings, no transformation. And that’s where the beauty of this play in all its aspects lies, from Gary Owen’s outstanding script to Rachel O’Riordan’s dynamic direction to Sophie Melville’s acting excellence: Iphigenia in Splott is something of Effie’s emotional vivisection. She is a complete and complex character from beginning to end, riveting and powerful. Her story carefully unfolds to reveal all her curves and her edges, but there’s no moralising or cheap melodrama. The story is as rough and full of surprises as she is.  

Effie’s motto throughout the play is “not alone.” That’s her euphemism for love – but also Owen’s euphemism for an intricate network of personal-societal relationships she is entangled within. Effie is painfully impacted by society on micro and macro scales – by austerity measures: hospital overcrowding and bed-blocking, as well as traumas caused by her own family – but in her final monologue, she claims a Pyrrhic victory: it was her who impacted the society – whether the society knows it, or not.  

Lyric Hammersmith, until 22 October

Image credit: Jennifer McCord