RONA Munro is one of Scotland’s most prolific writers, in television (Dr Who), on film (Oranges and Sunshine, Aimee and Jaguar), on radio and for the stage, for which she has produced epic works like The James Plays and tiny, intimate dramas like Iron.
It was this tense four-hander, first seen in 2002, that director Patricia Richardson chose for ImpAct’s autumn tour. The Dorset-based “occasional company” is known for tackling plays usually ignored by regional touring and too challenging for many amateur companies.
Iron is set in a women’s prison in Scotland where Fay has been incarcerated for the last five of her 15 years of a life sentence. She’s had no visitors, but has carved out a niche in the prison at the centre of most plots and disturbances. She’s an intelligent schemer, charismatic and disappointing.
The play starts when her 25-year- old daughter Josie makes her first visit. This high-flying career woman has an international career that belies her fractured background, and she’s never been near a prison. Now she wants answers from the woman who remained mute at her trial for murdering her husband on the sofa with a kitchen knife. Josie wants to remember a childhood blanked out by the trauma of seeing her father dead.
In a series of oscillating interviews, always under the eye of one prison guard or another, the two women try to discover one another. The process is acutely painful and totally involving. By the end of the first half the audience is looking for answers too, and offering possible explanations, mostly fuelled by a desire for a “happy” outcome.
That’s not what life is about, certainly not for the rackety wild child that Fay has always been.
This haunting play (the sort of thing we generally see only in the confines of our houses on the small screen) requires exceptional acting, especially from the central pair.
In the ImpAct production, Merseysider Joanne Owen captures not only the nervous tension, braggadocio, terror, manipulation and tenderness of Fay, but also her broad Glaswegian accent, its language fuelled by years of incarceration. It is a spellbinding performance.
It falls to Alicia Shore to bring Josie to life. Brought up in Aberdeen by a grandmother she called “mum”, and mixing with a very different community, her accent and language, though Scottish, are very different from her mother’s. How difficult it must be to take on an accent so different from your own, and also critically different from the others on stage. And how brilliantly she has done it as she struggles to understand what her mother has done, and why.
Kim Fletcher and Lee Tilson as the guards may have only a small number of lines, but every one is telling.
This is a play about a mother and daughter relationship, about the purpose of prison (retribution or rehabilitation), about the imbalance of the legal system and public perception of men and women, about the need for human contact, and the dangers of eliminating it.
If you can get to see this extraordinary production, please do so. Patricia Richardson’s production is ImpAct at its finest, first enfolding and then startling its audience out of a Saturday Strictly complacency into real reality.
It is at Bournemouth Little Theatre in Winton from Tuesday 30th October to Thursday 1st November, nightly at 7.45. For details, telephone 01202 51336 or visit the website, www.bournemouthlittletheatre.co.uk