Iron - Review

Reviewed by Barry Hewlett-Davies

If you were to believe what some of the papers say, you’d think being sent to prison is like finding yourself in a holiday camp – regular meals, central heating, counselling, education classes, recreation and TV, all with daily exercise. It’s really rather like what happens in Porridge on TV, isn’t it ?

The only answer to that is “NO!”

Rona Munro’s play is set in the regime of a Glasgow gaol. Though she is not primarily concerned with polemics, she tells her story in such immediate human terms and so without sentimentality that what she says hits you hard and straight in the stomach.

She presents four very real people – a woman doing life for sticking a knife in her husband; her daughter who has spent most of her life not knowing the truth; a female prison officer who may be evilly-intended; her male colleague apparently dedicated to doing a nasty job with kindness and understanding.

You feel you get to know all of them very well and very quickly. But how do they deal with one another ? Are their relationships what they seem ? Are they all behaving truthfully ? What is truth when you are confined and disorientated ?

Jerry Lyne’s cast deals with the situation with confidence and style, a great team and brilliant ! They are Sandie Armstrong, Erica Thornton, Alistair Lock and Laura Scobie. I won’t discuss them individually because they work so successfully as a group.

When I was younger, I was in and out of prison regularly. I do not have a criminal record.I was part of a Home Office Press team responsible for explaining the work of the then Prison Commission to the world at large. From that experience I know how accurate this production is. Unfortunately.

The way the play looks is crucial. Bleak and stark are the keys. Light is important and Strat Mastoris designed it well. The studio is black with few props, the only colours the red cover on the prison bed and the few flowers in the garden. The lighting gives it the depth it needs.

At first sight, you might think you’re in for a a dismal evening but in fact, it’s a valuable experience in the theatre. It comes with all the noise of a prison but not, thank God, the smell.