Touring – reviewed at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Guest reviewer: Hugh Simpson
There are moments in Gut – presented by the Traverse in association with the National Theatre of Scotland – where it is difficult to breathe, such is the power of Frances Poet’s psychological thriller. However, there are also stretches which are far less compelling, or even entirely convincing.
Poet’s first full-length play touches on common fears, with couple Rory and Maddy worrying that their young son Joshua has been exposed to harm due to a bad choice made by Rory’s mother Morven.
Maddy’s suspicions are soon spiralling into outright paranoia, in an excellently judged performance by Kirsty Stuart. There are several moments of stomach-tightening tension, and this is mainly thanks to Stuart. She is backed up well by Peter Collins as Rory, with their relationship being utterly believable.
Unfortunately, not everything else is equally credible. While much of the central section of the play works very well, there are definite problems at either end. The cause of the parents’ worries is introduced very early and rather abruptly, with Morven remaining opaque, despite Lorraine McIntosh’s commitment to the role. The ending is even less satisfactory and is a decidedly odd fit with much of what has come before.
In between, this has a great deal to recommend it, not least George Anton as the various figures who fuel Maddy’s fears. There are few who can combine plausibility with slightly off-kilter creepiness as well as Anton does here.
There is a similar combination at work in much of the dialogue, with the quotidian concerns taking on a heightened quality. This is not always successful; the poetry seems too forced on occasion, which is one of the things that cause the ending to wobble. Conversely, the mentions of particular public figures (judging by the subject matter, you can probably guess who) come across as banal and lacking in impact.
Much of it is very successful, however, with mundane objects and conflicts taking on a symbolic quality. Even the less convincing elements of the other characters can be explained – if not entirely excused – by so much of the story being seen through the prism of Maddy’s concerns.
Kirsty Stuart and Peter Collins. Photo Mihaela Bodlovic
Themes of trust, of fear of outsiders, and of how justified concerns can lead apparently rational people to completely unjustified conclusions, are timely and utterly integrated into the narrative. This leads to the undeniable feeling that Poet is an extremely interesting writer who here has not quite found a vehicle that can sustain her talent.
Zinnie Harris’s direction (aided by Fred Meller’s set and Kai Fischer’s piercing lighting) adds considerably to the tension as it is ratcheted up, but is less successful when the narrative flags.
And it does flag, despite the best efforts of all concerned. When so many new writers seem constrained by the desire to fit everything into an hour, the Traverse should be congratulated for providing the opportunity to stretch out. However, there are times when this production – 90 minutes without an interval – feels too long.