ImpAct Theatre pride themselves on their ability to undertake and perform challenging theatrical material; plays normally avoided by most amateur dramatic companies. This autumn, Iron is no exception. Set in a woman’s prison, the play pits a mother/daughter relationship central to the narrative as daughter Josie tries to uncover her lost childhood memories (apparently wiped after the traumatic murder of her father) through re-connecting with her mother, Fay, whom she hasn’t seen in fifteen years. The problem is, Fay is the murderer and wants nothing more than to forget this past. Described as an intense psychological drama, Iron takes audiences on a powerfully emotional journey. This immersive experience is a credit to the onstage and offstage talent and I left feeling more than impressed at the multiple strengths of this production.
Componential to the play’s success is the, sometimes uneasy, dynamic between Fay and Josie. Fortunately, the roles were very well cast. Both actresses gave extremely believable performances in their respective parts with a wonderful contrast illustrated between the reserved and, at first, out-of-her-depth Josie and her hardened, slightly boisterous mother Fay.
In the role of Fay, Joanne Owen offers an outstanding performance. Many actors know the difficulty of playing an emotionally charged, unstable character without erring on the side of melodrama but Joanne’s characterisation is undeniably authentic. The actress is at her best when charged with lengthy monologues and flashbacks – with one particular act two outburst finishing on a silence so tense, a pin could have been heard if dropped.
Just as impressive is Alicia Shore, who portrays daughter Josie with an intriguing edge. The character is written with a subtle character arc as the actress must convincingly convey Josie’s gradual personal transformation from meek and mild to confident and commanding after multiple visits to her mother. This is expertly done through Alicia’s utilisation of character mannerisms and physicality as the nervous wringing of the hands and downwards gaze is slowly replaced by a confident stride and hair flick. I’d go as far to say the actress did not need the more obvious visual symbolism of her transformation towards the closing scenes; a credit to Alicia’s talent and command of the stage.
The protagonists are supported by two prison guards, portrayed by theatre veterans Lee Tilson and Kim Fletcher. Although more minor parts, the characters are crucial in conveying the institutionalisation of prisoners in modern society whilst offering audiences extra perspectives on the plot, outside of the emotionally charged and biased views of Josie and Fay. Both actors are able to hold their own against the leading parts with Kim’s closing sentence perhaps the most poignant of the piece.
Established director Patricia Richardson has chosen an ambitious play but has taken steps to ensure its success. With a suggestive set, the prison is convincingly portrayed across separated areas of the stage whilst a subtle soundtrack strengthens a realistic atmosphere. This atmosphere is complimented by the intimacy of such a small theatre. However, Patricia has clearly focused her time on the characters’ relationships – a focus well placed. If I was to criticise anything, the choice to use the Scottish dialect occasionally made either shouted or emotionally distressing dialogue difficult to pick up to the untrained ear. However, these moments were few and far between and when balanced against the sheer amount of lines remembered by the two protagonists, it is a minor critique.
This play was certainly a different way to spend Halloween, but its ability to leave its audience asking more questions than it answers in some respects is something to be admired. Psychological dramas may not be everybody’s cup of tea but Iron is a shining example of the genre, particularly when it is performed by such a talented group.
There is one last performance tonight, November 1st, 7.45pm at Bournemouth Little Theatre. Tickets £12 (concessions £11).