This review was originally written for and published by The Public Reviews.
In Rona Munro’s Iron, lifer Fay has spent the last fifteen years in prison for murdering her husband. For the first time, her now grown-up daughter Josie visits, trying to piece together the fragments of her forgotten past and find out what happened the night her father was killed.
Over time their bond is slowly rebuilt, with Fay attempting to help Josie remember life before Fay was sent down, but Fay’s delight in re-establishing her relationship with her daughter is also overshadowed by her obvious need to live vicariously through her. Despite the prison setting this is fundamentally a story about a relationship between a mother and daughter and the subtle manipulations that can occur between both. Over the course of the piece realisation dawns that both would be much happier if they stayed apart.
The setting is stark, an illuminated rectangle, the prison world outside the walls of the visiting room represented by distant sounds of doors clanging shut and random screams. The air hangs heavy with the grimness of prison life. The staging is by necessity rather static, but director Richard Baron avoids losing the audience’s attention by moving the actors around and providing dramatic contrast in the interactions between the prison guards and some atmospherically lit flights of fancy for Josie and Fay.
Blythe Duff, best known for her role as DC Jackie Reid in Taggart, is acting on the other side of the judicial divide as Fay. Masterfully manipulating both the conversation and the actions of her rediscovered daughter. Duff gives a tour de force performance, skilfully turning the conversation and her emotions on a knife edge, subtly slipping into a warm anecdote a glimpse of the brutal truth of her relationship with her husband, switching from machine gun banter to guarded silence in an instant, it is she who holds the audience gripped throughout. The supporting cast while adept, don’t have the magnetic pull of Duff.
Munro’s writing allows us to get to know these women and to care about what happens to them, painting as it does a grim, heartbreaking insight into prison life and human relationships, but the piece is unnecessarily wordy. The writing is beautifully lyrical and both women speak eloquently of their pains and desires but at two and a half hours long some of the emotional impact and momentum is lost in this otherwise compelling play.