Factory and Obsidian Theatre present this audio adaptation of Lisa Codrington’s Cast Iron. Directed by Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu, it features Alison Sealy-Smith in an intensely dynamic live performance. Told in vivid, lyrical language, this riveting tale is delightfully ghoulish and heart-wrenching in equal measure.
Alone one night in a Winnipeg nursing home, the brutal wind howling outside, we meet Libya Atwell, a Bajan immigrant, grumbling to the dark and empty air about her lack of sleep. Or is the dark so empty? It seems a man has invaded her space. Is he real? Real enough to her, at least, for his presence transports her back to her native Barbados.
Libya reveals the childhood rivalry with Gracie—her younger, more sociable sister. It is in this deeply hidden past, shame-filled secrets lurking in half-remembered foliage, where we also find her grandmother. Staring fearfully out at the cane-fields through the window of her home, she grips the cast iron pan that has taken on mythic resonance in Libya’s mind. This common domestic item becomes the only protection against the sinister “Red Woman.”
Codrington’s text curls itself around some ghastly imagery. The spectre of this Red Woman is particularly compelling. This legend, looming large in the minds of local children, stalks the sugar-cane field, a knife clutched in her bloody hand. There is a lot rattling around in this figure—notions of meat, butchery, and the grotesque yet mundane realities that fuel superstition.
Sealy-Smith is a consistently compelling performer. Here, where she portrays several characters, shifting elegantly between genders and ages, her craft and stamina is astonishing. It is no great achievement to put on voices, but Sealy-Smith is offering a great deal more than functional reference points. In carefully observed vocal patterns and nuanced shading, she inhabits several fully realized people, each with a tangible, unspoken history.
If you are not familiar with its colloquial rhythms, it takes some time to get comfortable with the Bajan dialect. The attention this demands has a hypnotic, focusing effect on an unfamiliar listener. Is it strange that I was reminded of Newfoundland English? Perhaps there is a some common quality to island voices, some similar way language evolves in communities set apart from a mainland.
John Gzowski’s sound design—also mixed live—is an understated, viscerally immersive soundscape. From the biting wind to the warm buzz of cicadas, distinct details give the environments verisimilitude. There is one specifically terrifying effect, used sparingly, that sent shivers down my spine—the cool and menacing metallic slash of a blade.
I wish I had caught the full production back in 2005. What a visceral thrill that production must have been! As an audio drama, Cast Iron is a gripping 70 minutes. The binaural presentation and its immersive quality is best appreciated with headphones.