7th April 2016
Iris is a compelling piece of drama which tackles some huge issues. Motherhood, sisterhood, grief, guilt and legacy. It explores the relationship between two sisters and their mother, and the lasting influence a parent can have on her children.
The central character is the elder of the two sisters, Julie (Katy Cavanagh), and the play essentially follows her discovery of herself as she battles through her own internal conflicts and finally comes to terms with the legacy of her relationship with her mother, Iris. She has returned home after many years away, and minimal contact with her mother or sister Ruby (Sam Neale), for Iris's funeral. There is friction between the two sisters fuelled by Julie's guilt and Ruby's resentment. At first it seems that Julie's guilt is purely due to her abandonment of her sister, but as the play progresses more and more of the circumstances of Julie's life with Iris are revealed and it becomes clear that the mother daughter relationship was hugely flawed.
Ruby is much younger - it was hard to put an age on her but the "whatever" attitude suggested teenage. Certainly she is immature, having been overly protected by Iris after a childhood accident.
As the play opens Julie is returning to the house, drunk, with a man in tow. The remains of a buffet and drinks are left on the coffee table and dining table, but the notion that there has been a party is quickly dismissed when Gerry (Joe Caffrey) draws attention to the debris. It is not until later that we discover it is the day of Iris's funeral and Julie has abandoned her sister and the few friends who turned out, at the wake.
Alison Carr has written Iris with humour and compassion. There is much that could be disliked in the two women, but the audience never feels it. The themes of self awareness and self discovery run through the play - symbolised by the many mirrors that adorn the walls of Iris's home and echoed in the repetition of Iris' mantra to "always be able to look ourselves in the eye".
The set of the play is the front room of the house - ordinary, except for the mirrors - but as the second act begins the walls are suddenly transparent for a moment to show the cracks beneath the surface, before the scenes begin and the cracks are covered.
This play unfolds like a puzzle - it is clear from the start that there are unresolved issues between the sisters, and within Julie herself. Iris, their mother, although dead, is a constant presence within the play - a malevolent one for Julie, but a more ambivalent presence for Ruby. Into the middle of all this is drawn the unsuspecting Gerry - one of life's helpers. He acts as the catalyst which draws out the truth for both women. slowly revealing clues for the audience as well as the sisters, so that we piece together the history of the family bit by bit. Like one of Gerry's puzzles the answers gradually fit together until almost all the pieces are in place and the truth is revealed. It's a hard truth and it could easily break any or all of the characters, but Alison Carr ends the play on a note of hope.
Excellent production, clever writing and sympathetic acting by the three members of the cast. Brilliant.
Iris plays until the end of April.