WE’RE often told that we are living in an age of rage; but rage is often nothing more than thinly-disguised terror, and the power of Frances Poet’s brilliant and intense new play, for the Traverse and the National Theatre of Scotland, lies in the ruthless honesty with which she lays bare the inner workings of our “age of fear”.
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh ****
As the play begins, the couple at the centre of the drama, Maddy and Rory, have almost laughably little to be afraid of, in global terms; they both have good jobs, their three-year-old son Joshua is doing well, and Rory’s supportive mother Morven lives nearby, and often looks after Joshua.
Yet when Morven, a trusting sort, casually mentions that a helpful man in the local supermarket cafe took Joshua to the loo for her, while she was juggling money and trays, Maddy gradually – and all too believably – falls into a spiral of terror about what might have happened to him, that eventually threatens to destroy her life. She gives up work, takes Joshua out of nursery, bans Morven from any involvement with her grandson.
And all along this downward spiral, we can hear the backbeat of a culture which once needed a collective approach to child-rearing, and therefore dangerously ignored the possibility of abuse in the family and community; but which has now recognised the phenomenon, and simply has no idea where to draw the line in labelling every stranger and non-stranger a potential predatory paedophile.
Like much new work in Scottish theatre at the moment, Gut has been in development a shade too long, so that its insistent references to the Jimmy Savile case, at its height four years ago, seem slightly distracting.
Everything else about Zinnie Harris’s production is impeccable, though; from Fred Meller’s cleanly unobtrusive design to Kirsty Stuart and Peter Collins’s superb embodiment of the central couple, and George Anton’s prowlingly brilliant stranger, disrupting safe domestic space with hurled boxes of toys, morphing in an instant from friendly fellow-parent to the threatening male figure of nightmare.
Gut is unashamedly an “issue” play, which may or may not survive the strange moment of recognition and obsession in which it was born.
As a piece of pure contem-porary drama, though, it is all but flawless – gripping, perfectly-structured, beautifully staged, and designed to ask fierce and vital questions about how much we, in the comfortable west, allow fear to shape and damage our lives; and about how many of those fears are groundless, after all.
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, until 12 May, and Tron Theatre, Glasgow, 15-19 May.