Written by Frances Poet
Directed by Zinnie Harris
Reviewer: Dominic Corr
We can reason with our heart, we can rationalise inside our heads. Yet we find it so very difficult to persuade a gut instinct. A visceral, primal stance which has a uniquely tangible feeling when we feel something wrong. It is, however, the blindest feeling we place trust in. Frances Poet’s new piece of writing; Gut, presents the concerns a young mother has when all three disagree surrounding the perceived threats to her three-year-old son.
For many, children are the most important aspect of their lives. So, the concept of entrusting their safety with a stranger has a great deal many factors. Some may be trusting of human kindness, many more perhaps see the ill-intent in another’s eyes. So, when Maddy and Rory’s son Joshua is escorted to the bathroom by a stranger, their imaginations grasp at shadows. Growing reports of child sex offenders, disconnection with neighbours and new media’s access to child pornography lead to a greater atmosphere for fear to flourish. Not due to more cases, but simply the ease with which hysteria can now spread. Poet’s writing is cogent at stripping back the thin line between paranoid fear and trust.
Poet’s writing is not without flaw, however, specifically with her use of pacing. The initial fear of ‘stranger danger’ is introduced rather abruptly, perhaps even a few minutes too soon into the production. We do not gauge much of our leads traits and emotions before the incident, but rather we learn their character through the response they have to the threat. Whilst this is inventive it leaves little room for much else. Our leads, whose roles reverse from aggressive overthinking into wary acceptance, is expertly handled, but highlights the other areas of pacing. Kirsty Stuart’s performance of Maddy as a mother is adaptive, realistic and when called for, extremely poignant. Though the sudden leap in pacing, perhaps reflective of paranoia’s sudden bursts, is jarring as she escalates leaving little room to breathe.
Even in the dark, there are small moments of joy. Everyday joy, real and welcome. In no small part, these are down to the chemistry between Stuart and Peter Collins. The contrasts between these scenes of unforced humour break up the segments of paranoia. Paranoia presenting itself in the genius decision to have the seven strangers all performed by George Anton. Each with various levels of trust, from policeman to stoner marvellously demonstrating our suspicious nature.
Cluttered, the set gradually fills with discarded toys, wine glasses and more scattered lumps of moulded plastic. A swing, arching back and forth across the stage reflect the child at the centre of this, but more so the tense emotions around him. Fred Meller’s design and Kai Fischer’s lighting complement one another. Subtle, acting as staging throughout, they both come into play as Maddy’s sanity fractures revealing the horrifying capabilities of a distressed mother beneath. Torrents of toys fall from the sky, shrieking the paranoid delusions of Maddy, all adding to the mise-en-scene sublimely.
New writing must connect with an audience to survive, something which Poet achieves through relatable issues. Pushing fresh innovative productions, the Traverse Theatre encourages discussion whilst entertaining audiences. Gut is no different and a welcome addition to the Traverse’s 2018 catalogue.
Runs until 12 May 2018 | Image: Mihaela Bodlovic