Review: Iron, Old Red Lion Theatre

“It’s a painful thing, remembering…”

…and at times, it is a near-painful thing to watch Bold Over’s production of Rona Munro’s 2003 play Iron. The way in which director Matt Beresford tightens the screws of this psychological drama and Shuna Snow’s extraordinary performance as Fay sucks the air out of the room is just excruciatingly good – there were entire scenes where I forgot to breathe. That the writing doesn’t quite sustain this level of intensity over its 2 hours 20 minutes running time is probably best for the oxygen levels of its audience, but this emerges as an excellent piece of fringe theatre. 

Fay is a lifer in a Scottish prison, jailed for murder 15 years ago and in that time has never received a visitor or spoken much of her life before. So it is a surprise to all concerned when a young woman named Josie turns up without a visiting order, revealing herself to be Fay’s daughter. A tumultuous episode in her life has left her questioning the gaps in her memory – she remembers nothing before her 11th birthday, nothing about her father – and so she has finally turned to her mother to try and piece together the mysteries of the past, unaware of just how painful a journey it will be for both of them. 

As Fay, Shuna Snow is just mesmerising, never more so than in the scenes where Emma Deegan’s Josie is trying to forge a connection between the pair. Damaged by years of institutionalisation and the shock of the intrusion of the outside world yet thrilled at the opportunities it offers, she’s an utterly mercurial spirit – jaggedly vicious when the mood takes her, cajolingly cunning when trying to get her own way, fragilely kind-hearted as the tiny spark of maternal instinct shows signs of rekindling. And there’s a marvellous ambiguity to Snow’s performance – nagging doubts of calculated manipulation are never too far from the surface. 

Deegan is also excellent as the almost impossibly naïve Josie, unaware of any of the realities of life in prison and sheltered from the difficulties of her upbringing by her protective paternal grandmother (who she called Mum). The precariousness of her own emotional wellbeing is interestingly drawn, as she comes to realise that what she needs isn’t necessarily what she thinks. Munro also provides fascinating insight into prison life through the characters of two prison officers – examining the power dynamics and almost familial closeness between them and their prisoners, Emma Carter and Don Cotter both impressive in these roles.

Libby Todd’s functional design neatly suggests the spareness of the various areas of the prison in which the play happens and Oscar Wyatt’s evocative lighting focuses in on the psychological intensity of the action with skill. 

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 12th October 

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