Direction : Arghya Lahiri
Writer : Rona Munro
Cast : Shernaz Patel, Dilnaz Irani, Meher Acharia-Dhar and Kenny Desai

IRON Play Review

Manvi Ranghar

 IRON Review
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IRON play review English play

Rage's production of Rona Munro's award-winning play IRON, directed by Arghya Lahiri, opens to the sound of distant fights, scrambling, and the jarring buzz of a jail lockdown. Shernaz Patel (Fay), brilliant as ever, sings a soft love song, offsetting the chaos and expressing the tender heart of the play and its protagonist. The play is set in a women's prison, where Josie visits her mother Fay, who is serving a life sentence for murder, for the first time in 15 years. One is gently pulled into this three-hour long, delicately addressed and psychologically profound play. It is an examination of human intention, of the good and the bad, of relationships, and what it means to be a woman and love like one. The indomitable bond that this mother and daughter share weaves a complex tale.

Rona Munro's play has strength and richness that allows it to survive well past its performance. The script is so well rounded, that the director and actors are like supporting characters complementing the narrative. Shernaz Patel shows the formidable skill of an actress so undeniably at home on stage. Josie, played by Dilnaz Irani held her own but her delivery proved occasionally weak, as seen in an intentional and affected delivery style in the first act, and the heavy-handed breakdown towards the end.

IRON is replete with colloquialisms befitting its native setting. The two guards, played by Meher Acharia-Dhar and Kenny Desai, do a fantastic job representing all that is human and "iron". "They own me," laments Fay. Both guards excellently express this sentiment. The female guard gives away her more fragile self through the course of the play, while continuing to be an embodiment of fear and surveillance. The only man in the scene, the male guard, is calm and his presence serves a much needed contrast and anchor. His steady, calm dominating silhouette guards the audience and the prisoners with authority. His observations and metaphors tie the story together.

The performance had moments of laxity, where it lost its energy, but the strong narrative and excellent acting carried it through. Elements of direction by Arghya Lahiri stand out. The guards patrol the audience when mother and daughter reach moments of deep vulnerability. This inversion of the prison and the breaking of the fourth wall are highly effective in creating empathy, and done with a subtle hand. The play is full of build-ups and clues in the narrative. The suspense and uncertainty of the characters' intentions, particularly in the first act of the play, are handled carefully. This makes way for the revelations in the second act to be more impactful and truthful. There are some misplaced theatrics, particularly in the breakdown scenes at the climax of the narrative, and one wonders if its loud intensity is warranted.

The lighting design is masterfully done. Four panels hung high on the Prithvi theatre ceiling with black bars painted across them. The spotlights shone through, leaving the floor with a crisscross of jail bars. The sound design is very intentional and minimally used. The beginning and end are characterised by what would one expect to be a jail while moments of vulnerability or the rising emotional action between mother and daughter are faintly enhanced and punctuated by ambient sounds of suspense. The ambiance of a jail is evoked with subtlety. The prison thus expressed has a quiet but certain truth of the power and the confinement that the space commands.

IRON is a very human play and an experience that will not escape the mind easily.

*Manvi Ranghar is an actor, writer and environmentalist from Mumbai. She studied Literature and values freedom.

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