Visiting a killer in prison must be one of the strangest human experiences, not least because there are usually no real signs that mark out a murderer from any other person. Perhaps in part this is because there isn't actually any real difference between someone who has killed and someone who hasn't.
Fay (Blythe Duff) is on a life sentence. She hasn't seen her daughter Josie (Irene Allan) for 15 years. The play begins with Josie organising her first visit to see her mother. This is a claustrophobic, tense piece in the subterranean confines of Traverse Two.
Duff provides a grim psychological portrait of a woman who has learnt to survive in prison, a talented manipulator and user of others. It is such a great performance, Duff charms the audience as well to begin with. Duff is wonderful to watch throughout, a real tour-de-force.
The play is almost more about how people other than the inmates are affected by the prison system. In many ways it is Fay who changes least over the play, whereas Josie and the prison guard Sheila (Claire Dargo) are altered by engaging with Fay.
Josie appears a smart switched-on professional, but her confident exterior is eroded by the memories her mother starts to resurrect. Anger and other emotions are brought to the surface, not just in Josie but also in Dargo's young, frustrated guard.
Allan presents a complex picture of how childhood trauma can affect someone. Her character is capable and quite strong, but there is a lot going on underneath.
The action takes place in a raised square stage with a few chairs underneath flickering strip lighting, it is very effective and keeps the audience on board for a substantial length of time. It wouldn't be right to have a short play about life sentences.
George (Crawford Logan) provides a slightly detached point of view as an older male prison guard, discussing somewhat misognystically how he prefers female prisons to male ones because the cells smell nicer. Logan is a very believable guard especially when patrolling the audience with his interrogating eyes.
A compelling play with a very strong cast, Iron takes us into a prison and shows not just the prisoners serving their time, but the punishment inflicted on everyone else involved too.
Reviewer: Seth Ewin