Iron is Firebrand’s latest triumph

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Ahead of its return to the Borders next week at Melrose’s Wynd Theatre on November 12 and 13, Judy Steel reviews Firebrand’s play Iron.

If there is one theatre marketing device I hate it is the words ‘starring’ followed by the name of an actor who has made his or her name on television. If it’s a solo show, then fine: but if not, then list all the cast or none.

I was drawn to see Iron, not because of the undoubted talents of Blythe Duff (whom I’ve seen more often on stage than on the box), but because of the equal ones of the other members of Firebrand’s company for this production: Claire Dargo, Crawford Logan and above all the luminous, heart-rending Irene Allan who plays the daughter of murderer Fay Black.

It’s a wonderful play, by one of Scotland’s finest playwrights - Rona Munro. Fay has served 15 years of a life sentence for the murder of her husband.

Now their daughter, whom she has not seen since then, turns up at the prison, wanting to build a relationship with her mother.

They do not have much of a chance of achieving this: they are never left alone, but are shadowed all the time by two guards, Sheila and George.

The latter move with varying degrees of discretion to and fro in tightly choreographed sequences – but at the sign of any physical touch between the mother and daughter, they step in to prevent it.

And Munro gives them lives of their own – families, ambitions, emotions – which round them out as full characters and not mere cyphers.

Richard Baron’s direction and Adrian Rees’ design compare very favourably: the intensity of Duff and Allan on a bare, but imaginatively-lit stage engages the emotions of the audience from the moment of the shaky, shy moments of their first meeting, through tempestuous ups and downs, to the exhausted, worn-out acceptance of the conclusion.

For Ellie Zeegan and Janet Coulson, the artistic directors of Firebrand, it is simply about making theatre of the highest quality from plays in whose quality they have faith. And in this they succeed triumphantly.