BBC Radio 4, 22 July 2013
Irongate is the kind
of play that works best on radio, as it blurs the distinctions between 'life' and 'death,' prompting listeners to think on
how human beings cope - or fail to cope - with tragic aspects of their lives.
Laura (Emma Fielding) walks regularly along the
Thames from Kew to Tower Bridge in homage to her departed husband Patrick. During one of those walks, she encounters
Teal (James Fleet), who seems like a stranger at first, but gradually takes more than a passing interest in Emma's affairs.
While sympathizing with him at first - as Teal claims that he is also bereaved - Laura gradually becomes more and more wary
of him, as he becomes over-familiar while claiming to "understand" how she feels. No one, she believes, can understand
how difficult it is for her to adjust to life without her husband who died prematurely of a heart condition.
As the play progresses, so we
discover that Teal is not quite what he pretends to be. Through a series of revelatory speeches, he forces Laura to
reflect on the how individuals respond to bereavement; are they mourning the loss of their loved ones, or are they simply
being self-indulgent in their mourning? Although Laura takes her walk along the Thames in Patrick's honour, she is made
to reconsider whether it serves any useful purpose or not. Author Nick Warburton does not offer any answers but leaves
us to reflect on our own experiences as well as those of Laura.
The idea of a regular walk along the Thames is a good one: Warburton not only invests the
action with social realism through references to familiar places, but suggests that Laura's physical journey from Tower Bridge
to Kew is also a mental one. Perhaps she needs Teal's help to complete it.
This two-handed play placed considerable vocal demands on Fielding and Fleet. It's a tribute
to their skills that they created a compelling and yet poignant piece, directed by Peter Kavanagh.