In Greek mythology, Iphigenia is the daughter of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon, sacrificed to let the ships sail to Troy. And sacrifice is indeed at the center of Iphigenia in Splott, a blisteringly smart, savagely poetic new play by Gary Owen that updates the story to modern-day Wales.
Set in a working-class Cardiff neighborhood, the play follows Effie (Sophie Melville), a no-bullshit, sharp-tongued young woman with a high blonde ponytail and a penchant for heavy drinking and three-day hangovers. That booze-induced brain haze is what carries her through a bleak existence—until she falls for Lee, a soldier with a wounded leg. Lee is different than the other guys, Effie’s convinced, and together they could have something special.
With its slant rhymes and throbbing beats, Owen’s script is a marvel. Vomit is “sour licorice juice.” When Effie and Lee are together, the parts of them that aren’t touching feel jealousy for the parts that are. As the lone performer, Melville brings the text to vivid life—her melodic motormouth delivery will leave you breathless. Hurdling and slinking about the stage in turquoise leopard-print leggings and silver Nike trainers, her face going from soft to stony in an instant, she’s wholly commanding. You fear her. You fear for her.
Director Rachel O’Riordan nails the pacing, and Hayley Grindle’s design is pitch-perfect: she leaves the stage mostly bare, save a few red chairs and some fluorescent strip lights, askew like collapsed venetian blinds. You’re easily transported to a drab apartment, grubby nightclub, or cash-strapped hospital.
Iphigenia builds to a political awakening that’s appropriately rage-filled, if abrupt and a bit hard to buy. But that’s a minor niggle in a tremendous, timely production.