There is no doubt Gary Owen’s adaptation of Ighigenia will be hard-hitting no matter what day of the week you get to see it. But watching it the evening after *that* morning it seemed so much more relevant, so much more like a call to action, an appreciation of community and the stark realities than ever. I wonder how I would feel watching if there had been a different government coming into power, would that sense of optimism make the reality of Owen’s themes a little easier a pill to swallow? Maybe just maybe the one thing to come out of Friday’s election result will be more people wanting to take decisive action, and maybe they will be fortunate enough to be near enough to the Sherman to see Iphigenia in Splott and maybe just maybe the community which we each have around us can rebuild and stand strong in response.
I’d love to say ‘rant over’, but surely this is what great theatre is about? Good theatre is meant to move you, and if it is really good it challenges you, and maybe just maybe when it’s exceptional it’s a rare challenge (to someone as bloody minded as me) which makes you change, to see the world around you differently, or to appreciate a wider perspective.
And because of the parallel to the Greek myth, Iphigenia in Splott emphasises (or reinforces) the need to appreciate other’s sacrifices, to not stand in judgement, that sometimes some people make their sacrifice so the lives of other can be improved.
The difference between the Greek myth and Owen’s at is reality. The adaptation is in your face, it is everything you know, people you have seen, characteristics you recognise, it is all too close to home. Your imagination about Troy and Greek Goddesses are not needed in the Studio, instead you are faced by the strength of Effie.
Effie is played by Sophie Melville, and oh, how she draws you in, taking a script and absolutely owning it, as no doubt anyone committing to the role of Effie would have to. But more than ‘making it her own’ Sophie Melville made Effie everyone else’s. Effie was recognisable, engaging, hard and cold, personable and caring. Being able to carry a script, single-handedly, for well over 60 minutes must be a talent in itself, to carry an audience with you, to have them on the edge of tears, and then to take a breath, and to have us laughing, about a situation at least 99% of the audience have no doubt been in, is not only a clever script, but must take so much emotional ownership, because whilst Effie may have made me laugh I still needed to wipe the residual tear in my eye away.
I should take a breath, before I admit to my complete emotion breakdown, and say, The Design. You walk in and you see simplicity. But it is so clever, you realise the sound and lighting is colliding with your mood, it is clever because the simplicity allows it to morph, to be. The simplicity of the set allows Effie to be in so many places, creating so much imagery to allow unfolding events to keep the pace, not pausing for complexity but running with Effie’s realities.
And so to it, to being tipped over the edge, it is difficult to know how much personal experience and empathy will affect you, but I would think it is enough to take anyone to the edge. To understand how complex life is, the decisions we make, the optimism we have in each other, the need to protect, to love, and to survive. But more so, to me, Iphigenia in Splott is to understand what it takes to make a difference, to know right from wrong maybe, but to make life better. I had stumbled and fallen long before it got to that point, what Effie takes you through was enough, to appreciate that what you see of a person is always the tip of an iceberg, but this went further, this took you to line- “this is where you are, this is what society’s acceptable behaviour looks like, and these are the unintended outcomes- what choice should you make?”
“I took this pain,
And saved every one of you, from suffering the same.
Your baby gets sick, she gets well
Because of me. Your mum gets ill
She gets healed, because of me and still…”
This week, as every week since before Christmas we have reaped the benefits of the NHS: the professionalism, in spite of their pressures and stresses. We move on after this week but the next family, and the next, and the next, should be comforted from that same service. The service which should be protected.
This can’t turn into a rant, about the closure of library services, about cuts to the budgets which create and realise the potential of my children- education creates an equality for our children. Allowing individuals to understand what their potential looks like is an awesome gift the Arts is able to make.
What make this more real, and daunting, is that whilst you sit watching, loving Effie’s Cardiff accent, for me the familiarity of the area of Cardiff my dad’s family are from, there is a stark reality. This script translates. To every city in England I’ve lived either in or near. You can put a pin in a map and, with a different accent and landmarks, Effie will be.
So you hold on to hope.
When you’ve left a theatre space, feeling like you’ve just met someone, who’s been stronger than you, because she’s had to be, you can’t help but think. You’ve got to get there before cuts or circumstance make you- because we are still in control of our choice.
I hope it goes without saying, but yes, this is definitely a production to be seen.
‘Iphigenia in Splott’ is at Sherman Cymru until Thursday 21st May 2015 (the run has been extended from 16th May so it is worth getting in fast!).
Effie: Sophie Melville
Author: Gary Owen
Director: Rachel O’Riordan
Designer: Hayley Grindle
Lighting Designer: Rachel Mortimer
Sound Designer: Sam Jones