For his latest play John P. Kelly, director and founder of SevenThirty Productions, has moved out of Ireland.
With this tenth show, the company decided to leave behind the modern Irish dramas it has always done in the past, in favour of Iron, a gritty prison drama by Scottish playwright Rona Munro.
Kelly says it may be the first time the play — originally a piece at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival — has been performed in Canada.
“It’s not Irish, but it is still gutsy and daring,” explains Kelly. “It was time to branch out. Niches are great, but we don’t want to restrict ourselves to only Irish theatre. We want to do great theatre — period.”
Iron is set inside a women’s prison, where Fay, played by Margo MacDonald, is serving a life sentence for killing her husband. Her daughter, Josie, played by Colleen Sutton, decides to visit her mother after not seeing her for 15 years. At first strangers, with many unresolved tensions, the duo begins to rebuild a mother-daughter bond. At the sidelines are the two prison guards, played by Kate Smith and Brian Stewart, whose domestic lives and interactions also work to build the story.
The play is compelling and expertly written, says Kelly. “There is a real heaviness in the script, but the darkness is alleviated by some unexpected humour and really clever writing.
“And it’s ultimately a thriller, with a twist at the end. I think it speaks to the strength of the writing that it works as a gripping drama and a thriller.”
Sutton is also quick to praise the writing, and says what immediately struck her about the script was the realness of the characters. “I love that even in this complicated situation, mothers are still mothers and there is a really interesting relationship between the characters Josie and Fay,” she says.
Kelly is wary of giving too much away when he talks about Iron, but he does say that there’s a social statement to be made. Not in a heavy-handed way, but through the complexity of all four characters.
“I think this plays makes some serious, defensible statements about the affect of long-term incarceration, in a way that really sticks with you.”