by Sophie Melville
Iphigenia in Splott tells the story of Effie, Cardiff’s answer to Iphigenia, who makes an incredible sacrifice for the greater good. Sophie Melville has played the part to rave reviews in Cardiff, Edinburgh and now the temporary theatre here at the NT. She has been kind enough to tell us a bit about the experience.
Firstly, I am a working-class actress from Swansea. So, on reading Iphigenia in Splott for the first time, not only did I have a huge connection with it because of the incredibly moving story, but I totally knew the characters and could relate to them on a deep and personal level. I remember preparing it for my audition and every time I would feel a huge variety of emotions, I knew it was a very special piece and one I was desperate to be a part of.
Rehearsals were so intense. We had three weeks to create the piece – and obviously for me to learn it. That was a very daunting task as it covered 51 pages of A4. For the first week we sat around the table picking the play apart, learning about the character, her world and why she behaves in the way she does. It would be very easy to play a ‘type’ in this kind of show and we were very careful to stay away from that. Yes, she is rough and ready but she is by no means a joke. The last two weeks were getting it up on its feet and finding a kind of language to tell the story without just standing there and talking.
It is a very exposing task to do a one-person show. Rachel [O’Riordan, the director] made sure I felt as safe as possible, so, without you even realising, the piece has a sort of movement – if my mind forgets where I am, my body seems to subconsciously take me to the next place. The whole process has been such hard work and it’s still exhausting because the show demands total commitment and 100% investment of all your energy and emotions.
It’s also unbelievably rewarding, in a creative sense, in the response from the audience every night and in the message that is delivered. I feel strongly about equal opportunity for everyone regardless of class and gender and this is a one-WOMAN show, directed by a woman, fighting for a voice for the working class: a voice we can so easily forget.
The story is universal. In every city there is an area like Splott and a girl like Effie. We all know her. We probably judge her. That is what makes the play so brilliant: it could be set anywhere and it would still have the same effect. Audiences from Cardiff to Edinburgh, and now to London, have all had the same response.
I feel totally blessed to be speaking those words every night. It’s a production that has shaped me as an actress and also made me question our world a lot more. It’s such an important play regardless of who is playing the part. Gary Owen has really created something special.
All photos show Sophie Melville as Effie, taken by Mark Douet.