Alarmingly absorbing, Iron CRESCENT THEATRE, BIRMINGHAM. 5 Stars.

IT is not to be confused with entertainment, but Rona Munro has written a play that gnaws at the vitals. Thom Sellwood's claustrophobic studio production is alarmingly absorbing.

It is set in a women's prison and centre's on a woman who has been there for 15 years for killing her husband - and begins receiving visits for the first time from her daughter, who is now 25.

Anna Downes is the prisoner, clearly on the edge of total breakdown.

Iron runs in repertoire with Kiss of the Spider Woman until Saturday. VERDICT: *****

John Slim

Birmingham Mail (July 8th, 2009)

Potential for Laughs Realised

Comic Potential

Old Rep. Birmingham



Efficiency was treading the boards, too. Michael Nile came lugubriously but alertly to his duties as Chandler Tate, director of the epic that was unfolding before our eyes, and Leigh McCarroll scored as Adam, nephew of the owner of the TV station and would-be author of his own drama.

This was centred around Jacie Triplethree, the innocent and irresistible actoid with an unpredictable tendency to shriek without warning, to speak intermittently at a rate of knots and to switch accents between Brummie, Yorkshire and the Deep South without pausing for breath.

Jacie is delightful. In her bleaker moments, she manages to tug the heartstrings. She is played by Anna Downes, who has fashioned for her a piping voice, a walk of tiny steps and a wide-eyed matter-of-factness in the face of life's little problems. One of these inconveniences is that she needs to be emptied every so often.

She is very amusing when she performs Here Comes the Hot-Stepper, and hilarity peaks again in the restaurant scene which finds her anxiety about being emptied being met by Mr McCarroll by dint of diving under the table and following her instructions to turn something one way or the other, while fellow-diners look on with ill-concealed interest, compounded when he eventually emerges with a half-filled plastic container.


Interestingly, the actoid innocence is set in a play in which Ayckbourn abandons his customary high standards of language a couple of times. This is another surprise in an evening that is not exactly short of them. There is even a good old-fashioned custard pie moment, superbly executed by everybody's favourite actoid and received nobly and with the requisite consternation by Patricia Hands in the guise of Carla Pepperbloom, regional TV director.

Gemma Harris and Samantha Broome are a good pairing as the television show's backroom girls, Leon Salter is Marmion, who acts as the larynx of Lester Trainsmith (Tony Nock), the station owner who eventually finds his voice to deliver a substantial speech from his wheelchair.

There are vigorous cameos from Tracey Bolt, as a prostitute, and Iain Neville, as the man who discovers an actoid in the seedy hotel which he regards as his own for his girls' purposes. There are lively lines: "What do you know about anything at all? You're an accountant." There is laughter galore, particularly in the second act. There is an abundance of honest endeavour. It's fun. To 29.5.10.

John Slim


YOU have to admire the spirit of people who organise open-air events during and English summer, and this company's 2011 tour has opened in what could be called typical weather. On the first night a downpour soaked the cast in their period costumes, but the show went on, and the second night in the beautiful setting of the Botanical Gardens saw the audience of over 100 huddled in overcoats, woolly hats and covered in blankets against the chill wind after enjoying their picnics, wine, and hot coffee. But the acting in Oscar Wilde's 1895 comedy-drama was superb, and if anyone missed a word of the clever dialogue it was only because a peacock strutting through the folding chairs chose to call his mate a few times. The story involves an attempt at blackmail over an incident of political corruption - so nothing new there - and Sally Wood is a delight as the scheming Mrs Laura Cheveley, an attractive guest during a social gathering at the plush Grosvenor Square home of Sir Robert Chiltern, a rising statesman with an apparent blameless background. Gerry Hudson gives an outstanding performance as Sir Robert who is suddenly faced with the prospect of resignation from the House of Commons unless he agrees to Mrs Cheveley's demands, and there are excellent contributions from Simon Garrington (Viscount Goring), Anna Downes (Lady Chiltern) and Alan Bull (Earl of Caversham).

Directed by Robert F. Ball, the play continues its tour at Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens (July 2 & 3), St Nicholas Place, Kings Norton (July 5 & 6), Highbury Hall (July 7), Hall's Croft, Stratford-on-Avon (July 9) and Harvington Hall (July 16 & 17).

VERDICT: * * * *

PAUL MARSTON Birmingham Mail