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Friday 8 April 2016

Review: Katy Cavanagh stars in 'Iris'

Review: Iris, Live Theatre Newcastle, 7th April 2016
Julie (Katy Cavanagh); Ruby (Sam Neale); Gerry (Joe Caffrey)
Written by Alison Carr; Directed by Max Roberts


It's just Jordan with this week's Wednesday - sorry, force of habit!

Last night, I was lucky enough to attend the world premiere of 'Iris' at Live Theatre, Newcastle, an intimate venue well known for staging new plays. It starred Katy Cavanagh, best know to us Corrie fanatics as the loveable Julie Carp.

Written by Alison Carr, the play tells the story of 45-year-old Julie and her 19-year-old sister Ruby following the death of their mother, Iris, who is still managing to dominate their lives with her matriarchal ways from beyond the grave. 

Although she is not seen, the character of Iris is absolutely vital to the story. However, we can imagine her, our opinions of her fuelled by the reports of the present characters. The living room is decorated with no less than nine mirrors, all different shapes and sizes. She believed that photographs only served a false purpose and that mirrors gave a true representation of a person. A favourite punishment of hers would be to force the girls to look into a mirror for hours when they had misbehaved. At the end of Act I, Julie and Ruby notice an package underneath a pile of junk mail which has gone unopened. Prompting a reaction too naughty for this blog, the characters express their horror at the unusual token Iris has bequeathed them to make sure she will always be around.

The two daughters she has left behind couldn't be more different. Julie is a headstrong driving instructor who moved away from the North East a number of years ago. She appears cold and uncouth a lot of the time, but her reasons for this are revealed as the play progresses. When we first meet her, she is returning from a drunken night out, appearing not to give a second thought about her mother's funeral only hours earlier. - I'm sure her character name is just a coincidence, Brian hasn't been left stranded on a cruise ship. Hopefully!

It is always very interesting to see a soap actor portray other roles and see how convincing they can be after we've spent so much time connecting with them as a single character. Ms Cavanagh certainly impressed as this Julie. Although there were small glimpses of the ditsy, comical Julie Carp, she also played a much darker character with a burdening yet believable secret which could defy that of any soap opera character.

The character of Ruby provided much of the comic relief throughout the piece, which was rather surprising. She's a 19-year-old layabout played brilliantly by Sam Neale, another Northern actress whose CV includes appearances in Wolfblood and Vera.  Ruby is a 19-year-old who has been overprotected by Iris ever since an incident at the beach left her  permanently scarred. Throughout the play, she wears an eye patch as well as her dressing gown. Thanks to the overprotective Iris, she has become a layabout. She has nothing to do but sit around and contemplate what she has now that Iris is dead. This contrasts totally to her sister, who tries to make her see that Iris dying is one of the best things that could have happened to her. Now she is free. But there is something underlying the grief. Ruby never takes her eye patch off. She has trouble accepting herself, yet is forced to look at herself every day thanks to Iris's obsession with mirrors. She has no qualms about hurling expletives and fiery sexual references left, right and centre in her piercing Geordie accent.

The third of three characters present in the play is Gerry. He meets Julie on her drunken night out and the pair seem to hit it off, but whatever their relationship is faces many bumps throughout the course of the play. He is played by Joe Caffrey, a seasoned performer with credits in programmes such as Byker Grove and The Bill. He also played the role of Tony in the original West End cast of Billy Elliot. Completing the trio of Northern actors, he brought the right amount of Geordie warmth to Gerry, a divorced crime scene worker whose wife and children are settled with a new man. He is also a wedding photographer on the side and later on in the play, he becomes crucial in Ruby's self acceptance.

So we have three brilliantly crafted characters who are all connected by an unseen character and they all brilliantly envelope the themes of parenting, love, self-acceptance and grief. I don't want to give too much away about the plot, but I can't express how beautifully written this play is. Act II opens with a simplistically lit monologue in which Julie describes watching a woman give birth. Katy Cavanagh delivered this emotional monologue with utter sincerity. It is only at the climax of the play, when all secrets are fantastically revealed, that the full meaning behind the very visual speech comes to light.

I must give a mention to the aesthetics of the production as well as the performances. The entire play is set in a living room. Upon entering the theatre, the living room is there for us to see, a concept I'm usually not keen on but it worked very well within this particular venue. The central part of the stage was taken up by a sofa, on which much of the action (and indeed a bit of that kind of action) occurred. A very believable set, not too unlike the ones seen in our favourite terraced houses. The mirrors added an interesting dimension to the aesthetics too, as well as the story. They enable us to see the actors from different angles and in different shapes, reiterating the theme of sight and looking at things from all perspectives.The sound and the lighting were spot-on, perfectly in sync with the action on stage, as is to be expected in a professional production.

I'll finish by saying that this production was nothing short of compelling. It did what any sort of fiction should - it transported me into a world I believed was real for the two hours of its running time. Excellent writing, clever direction and wonderful performances. It was lovely to see Katy Cavanagh in a new light. By her character's downfall in Act II, she was totally unrecognisable from the ditsy knicker-stitcher we all loved. If you can, get yourself to Live Theatre in Newcastle, where this compelling production is running until the end of April.

Many thanks to Live Theatre for giving me the opportunity to see the show on press night.

And thank you for reading!


Twitter - @JordanLloyd39 (
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Anonymous said...

Fabulous review, Jordan - thanks for sharing. Sadly, I am too far away to take in this production, but will watch for it elsewhere in the future.

Cobblestone said...

Great, and thorough, review, Jordan. It's fantastic that you travelled to Newcastle to see the show in this small if innovative theatre. I have to declare an interest here, as I'm working on this production, but your enthusiasm echoes my own. I've been blown away by all three performances, but especially by Katy's, speaking as someone who, like yourself, has known her so well as Miss Carp. Great to see her returning to her North East roots too (she was born in North Shields, although grew up in Lancashire - hence the line about her accent!) I'd encourage anyone who's able to make the journey to come and see the show, if only to see a favourite soap actress demonstrate her versatility. But there's much else to enjoy as well in this funny, powerful piece of theatre.

Unknown said...

Thanks Cobblestone. I'm actually from Durham so it's not that far for me to travel. I'm so glad I've discovered Live Theatre and I'm going to try to come to more plays and also look into getting involved. A wonderful theatre. That's fab that you're working on the production. A fantastic job done by all cast and crew I'd say.

Cobblestone said...

I had no idea you were from Durham; it's my own home town. Small world, eh?


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