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Iris: Love Changes Everything

Rebecca-Clare Evans
Manana Productions
Three Minute Theatre, Manchester

Iris

Domestic violence is one of the most powerful topics for a drama with huge social relevance.

In this first play from Manana Productions, we are shown the systematic process whereby an apparently confident and capable woman is broken down into a servile victim. Love does indeed change everything when you unexpectedly fall in love with a violent psychopath.

Iris is a single professional woman who is encouraged to go out with Ben by her best friend Sarah, whose husband Tod is a good friend of Ben. The first part of Iris and Ben’s relationship where they are courting is delicately written and well played with some nice romantic touches.

Ben is very attentive and charming. Then the action suddenly jumps forward some six months when we discover that Ben is moving in with Iris and that’s when the story begins to take on a darker hue.

Very quickly, Ben starts to terrorise Iris by first separating her from Sarah and then sabotaging her professional abilities and controlling whom she can see and how and when. While this is very well portrayed, it would have been even better to see more of the charming side of Ben because once we witness what he’s really like we don’t notice any redeeming qualities in him at all.

This is part of the point however, as how Iris sees him and how we see him are completely different. For the victim of an abusive relationship, it can be too difficult to accept that their partner’s behaviour is way beyond the tolerable. This is the case with Iris and Ben. While we may have been internally shouting at her to get the heck out of it given the cyclical nature of this type of partnership where warm care follows cold cruelty, escape is near impossible.

Mark Smalley as Ben is very good at conveying a sense of menace and, when this breaks out into violence against Iris, it is appropriately outrageous and very difficult to watch. Some of these attack scenes are quite lengthy. Though they are very well choreographed by Kaitlin Howard and performed by both Mark Smalley and Rebecca-Clare Evans, they do go on for some time.

Rebecca-Clare Evans as Iris is suitably downtrodden and gives a very unswerving portrayal of a woman driven past the edge by the abuse of her partner. The first time Ben gets inside her head is truly shocking as she blames herself for what is in fact his own fit of irrational jealousy over her platonic friend Craig.

The other main couples whose lives intersect with Iris and Ben are Sarah and Tod and Anne and Phil. Sarah is Iris’s best buddy to begin with until Ben gets his hooks into her and Francesca Kingdom gives a very strong performance.

She convinces when she has to choose between her friend and her marriage, although there is a hefty plot contrivance to be swallowed along the way. Kash Arshad who plays Tod shows us a bit of a bore who we realise by the end does love his wife after all. He is in stark contrast to the psychopathic Ben.

Anne and Phil run the pub where the characters socialise and these scenes effectively broaden out the action from the domestic to the public. Their long-standing marriage is touchingly played and it’s clear they know each other very well and have a healthy if feisty relationship.

Karen Allen and Gary Overton brilliantly draw out all the comedy. Anne also acts as a confidante to Sarah when in one of the most effective scenes in the play she advises her on how best to support her friend despite the risk to her own security.

The other characters are Craig who once had a thing for Iris although she only saw him as a friend and Mark who is Craig’s friend. Dru Jones is believably ardent in his persistent interest in Iris and her welfare.

The confrontations with Ben, whose jealousy is totally unfounded, are very well done and in one scene in the pub, as the tempers break, some bottles were knocked off the table spraying this reviewer with liquid. Mark played by David Bresnahan is a true ally for Craig and looking out for his interests with very good comic timing which lightens the mood at various critical points.

The production is adeptly staged within the compact playing area of the 3MT, although one or two of the lighting cues felt a little hesitant at times and some scenes ran like they had gone on just a moment too long. The tragic denouement is skilfully rendered but the epilogue element doesn’t add anything to the impact of what has just happened. It clearly surprised the audience who were already clapping at what they had assumed was in fact the end of the play.

The company and especially Rebecca-Clare Evans as writer and co-lead deserves much kudos for tackling and so effectively such an important topic which was based on real life testimony as evidenced in the programme notes. Director Natalie Kennedy dextrously draws all the complex strands together and coaxes fine performances all round.

The passion, skill and total commitment of all the players bodes very well for the future of this fledgling company.

Reviewer: Andrew Edwards