What an ordeal! If Iphigenia in Splott is tough to watch because of the material it covers, just imagine what it would be like for the lone actor on stage who gives one of the greatest performances I have seen. It is 90 minutes of dense verbiage, accented and delivered at a mighty healthy clip.
Effie (Jessica Clarke) is a bit of a wild child who hails from the Welsh working class district of Splott and is regarded as a skank. Although Effie talks about her nan, she doesn’t appear to think all that much of her. She certainly doesn’t follow her advice. Effie drinks to excess regularly, does drugs and lives with her roommate Leanne, who does nothing to discourage that behaviour.
She is shagging a local guy, Kav, who she doesn’t think much of either. Then one day when she is with him in a pub, she spots a good-looking bloke across the room. He – Leigh – turns out to be an ex-soldier on a night out with his military mates. They all appear respectful. She ditches Kav and hooks up for a memorable night of sex with Leigh.
Instantly, she no longer feels alone. Their connection is palpable. She has, no doubt, she has found her forever guy. But things quickly go pear-shaped from there … and then it gets even worse. This is modern Greek tragedy.
The unusual title, Iphigenia in Splott, is a nod to a work by historic playwright Euripides called Iphigenia at Aulis, written about 408 BC. Iphigenia in Splott, written by Gary Owen, won the Best New Play at the 2015 UK Theatre Awards and it is not hard to see why. It draws you in to the uncontrollable life that Effie lives. It is ever so dramatic and traumatic. We – the audience – will her life to take a positive turn, but there is no let up. Hope turns to desolation.
Clarke is triumphant every step along the way. Just how she manages to pull together such an uncompromising performance you simply must see. She is forever in the moment, channeling elation, hope, pain and heartache. She is magnificent as Effie, on stage and en pointe every second, without dropping a line. Extraordinary.
It is just her in a small space containing a couple of chairs, a table, a handbag and a two thirds drunk open bottle of an orange coloured drink. Gary Abrahams does a fine job directing the virtuoso showing. Iphigenia in Splott in playing at Red Stitch Theatre in St Kilda until 18th July, 2021.
Other reviews you might enjoy:
- Burn This (fortyfivedownstairs) – theatre review
- Pomona (Red Stitch) – theatre review
- Ulster American (Red Stitch Theatre) – theatre review
Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.