There’s something quite special about seeing a new play, by a talented home-grown writer, on home turf and Iris, by the North East’s own Alison Carr, is just that: special.
Iris is a three-hander, held together watertight by Katy Cavanagh – probably best-known for playing Julie on Coronation Street – and two North East talents, Samantha Neale and Joe Caffrey. Julie (Cavanagh) has returned to the North East, and her childhood home, to bury her estranged mother. The play sees her attempts, and resistance, to reconnect with her sister, Ruby (Neale). Loveable crime scene cleaner Gerry (Caffrey) enters their lives and what follows is a touching, caustic, at times volatile but genuinely emotional look at grief, and how haphazardly some people deal with it.
Alison Carr is a unique writer; the kind you feel is telling stories from your childhood, your mind and your heart. Following Edinburgh Fringe successes like Patricia Quinn Saved My Life and The Soaking of Vera Shrimp, this play sees Newcastle writer Carr return to the Live Theatre – the same theatre that in 2013 awarded her a bursary in collaboration with The Empty Space, which supports local theatre companies and artists. Iris is full of nostalgia for the North East and little nuances that warrant genuine belly laughs and tears in equal measure. The dialogue can go from angry to acid-tongued to beautifully emotive and back again within one scene.
Cavanagh shines as Julie. Although best-known for her daft comedic turn on Corrie, here she is stony-faced serious; I was genuinely shocked, in the best way possible, at how good an actress she is. Caffrey has the bumbling nice guy to a tee and it is impossible not to be concerned that hard-faced Julie is going to break his heart. As Ruby, Neale is a revelation. My star of the show, she is heartbreaking as a girl still recovering, emotionally not physically, from a childhood accident that has left her scarred for life. Angry at the world, scared to leave the house and still ruled by her overbearing mother, even in death, Ruby is a complex character but Neale pulls it off like a seasoned vet. The scene where she begs Julie to stay with her instead of going back to London is devastatingly sad.
Carr’s writing is stunning but it is the talents of the play’s three actors that help to elevate it to masterful. Iris is a great night out – but it is one you will be mulling over long after it finishes.
Iris is at the Live Theatre until April 30. Click here for tickets.