FringeReview Scotland 2012
Young Border’s theatre company take on Rona Munro’s play about an attempt at redemption and familial forgiveness that ends with skeletons out the cupboard and laid bare on the floor. This is a great performance of a great piece of theatre.
Josie wants to meet with her mum. After 15 years she feels it is time to so do. Having been brought up by her Gran it is clear that her mum has a highly significant barrier to being a stay at home mommy; prison. Convicted of murdering her husband – Josie’s father – Fay is initially distant, almost hostile, yet becomes close to her daughter. Then Josie decides she wants to liberate her mum. The relationship sours as Fay realises that Josie is serious insofar as she thinks she can get her mother released as Josie thinks Fay acted under duress. All the time we have the two guards like a Greek chorus, looking in and predicting the future whilst the full horror of the reality of what actually happened rather than what Josie remembers is played out.
10 years ago I was an Arts Council Assessor sent to see Iron. I wrote that this was a future classic. I am delighted that I was right. This production is very different to the one I saw at the Traverse. Stripped bare the focus becomes clearly on the writing; and what writing. Firebrand has truly given us back one of the best pieces of writing of the last ten years. It draws you in and allows you to languish as part of the action whilst allowing the full shock of the final revelations to be felt as full on as if you were onstage yourself.
We can leave others to draw parallels between Blythe Duff’s past and present career choices – what matters here is that she is compelling, convincing and terrific. It took seconds, if that, to see Fay and forget what others may feel are barriers to her convincingly portraying a murderer in prison. I had always felt that Fay had been portrayed in the original production as unfeeling and distant in a way that made it difficult to feel the full horror of the final revelations. They jarred. With a high number of Secondary Schools using this play as fodder for their Higher Drama practical exams you could be persuaded that, in isolation, five minutes from here might just do for two female actors. It made my heart sink seeing them try and recreate Iron. Well, each teacher of Drama and English should get themselves along to see how it is done. Duff’s guarded warmth has a counter point in Irene Allen’s over enthusiastic and naive Josie that convinces you of their relationship. The balance of power that goes from one to the other as the truth comes out is compelling. I did find Allen’s Josie slightly irritating at times as she appeared to me ever so slightly over the top – almost jolly hockey sticks – when her mother was doing life for killing her dad.
Both guards – Crawford Logan and Claire Dargo in parts that are the artistic equivalent of an Old Firm goalie; not called upon to do much for most of the production but when they are needed; they need to be vital – are perfect foils. In particular I found Logan’s Officer – one of the old guard – particularly convincing with the final scene between himself and Josie one I felt encapsulated the whole play perfectly.
It comes performed on chairs on a clever wee square with light boxed edges. Between the set and the excellent sound scape we can be transported to a world of claustrophobic servitude with ease.
This is yet another theatre company with a short life span thus far who should be looking towards longevity. This is an excellent production with high level values on show. It gives you a classic modern text re-imagined in a way that is not only accessible but enticing too. Bringing texts back for another production should be approached with caution. The caution here has been thrown out the pram, trampled on and put back in completely intact in terms of the integrity of the writing but with a new perspective that zings.
I was fortunate to see the piece in Catstrand in New Galloway. A word or two of caution – it is in new Galloway and NOT Castle Douglas. Being IN Castle Douglas 25 minutes before curtain up is not likely to aid your digestion as it is about … 25 minutes away… My gratitude to the team at Catstrand keeping curtain up until we got there – we were not the only ones running slightly late – but the welcome was great. Clearly dependant upon volunteering this is a venue of warmth, vitality, love and comfy seats! As indeed is Catstrand. My first visit and one I shall repeat. Intimate, modern and with sufficient worthy local and country based produce on sale to melt my credit card several times over it’s one of those lovely things we stumble upon – a find!
Clearly I enjoyed this and would recommend the piece to anyone looking for a challenging yet engaging piece of quality drama. I would, however suggest, that if you are not able to get to see the piece, then keep an eye on the company – there are some great things coming out the Borders and by the look if it this is one of them…