This is certainly an energetic performance by Sophie Melville and might well appeal to some people, but I left feeling curiously unmoved after the 75 minute monologue. I scanned a few reviews afterwards to see if I’d missed anything obvious, particularly to see if anyone could explain the connection to the Iphigenia myth. All I found were vague references to sacrifice made to ease a society’s problems but the analogy still looks hopelessly weak to me. A more satisfactory comparison, I thought, would be The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists
as the piece asks us to examine the popular perception of the protagonist Effie as a selfish, obnoxious waster and consider instead what she sacrifices for the general good. The trouble is that where Tressell’s decorators invert the conventional view by being seen to create all the wealth rather than being beneficiaries of the employer’s largesse, Effie’s sacrifice consists merely of not taking everything she can all the time. It’s not even a particularly original insight. The notion that those at the lower end of the income distribution table provide a useful service by accepting relatively poor living standards was widespread at least as early as the 1960s. Gary Owen gives the argument a big twist with Effie’s central act of ‘philanthropy’, which can’t really be mentioned here without spoiling the piece but which I, for one, found unconvincing. Also unconvincing is Effie’s, ahem, frankness about her sexual behaviour; but then I tend to align myself with Erica Jong’s Isadora in being suspicious of women’s openness about their sexual appetites when those women are fictional characters invented by a bloke.
The main reason I found this piece, for all its energy, less than satisfactory, is that even with the default bias towards the protagonist on her side, Effie is a very unsympathetic character shot through with the immature individual’s insistence that they’ll do exactly as they please regardless of what anyone else feels coupled with an outraged astonishment when other people don’t listen to them when they do choose to harangue them. I don’t know to what extent Owen wants his audience to notice this but Effie’s ugliness goes far beyond braggadocio at times – as witness the way she revels in the fact that a young mother she upsets can’t do anything because she knows Effie lives in the same neighbourhood as her children. Another thing I found rather off-putting was Effie’s accent. I’ve never, in real life or in the media, heard anyone pronounce English in the way she does. Of course, I don’t know all the accents in Britain but this was certainly not how I imagine Cardiff people speak. It’s not helped by the fact that while Splott is a real part of that city it does rather sound like one of those made up towns in Little Britain
.Iphigenia in Splott
is at the Everyman until Saturday. You might enjoy it more than I did. The applause after last night was enthusiastic, but that’s so common these days that it signifies little. For all my reservations, it’s still better than watching telly – and last night there was the added advantage of missing Liverpool FC’s giving themselves a mountain to climb in the first half and getting out in time to see them successfully scale said mountain in the second.http://www.everymanplayhouse.com/whats-on/iphigenia-in-splott