What is trust? Do you trust you family? Your friends? How about your partner’s friends? How do we retain it or rebuild that trust if it’s lost? The new play Gut from Frances Poet is all about trust – or gut instinct – and that’s explored here in painful detail.
We meet Maddie and Rory who are bringing up a three year old called Joshua. They’ve just come back from an anniversary getaway and his mother’s been looking after their son. We open on them telling an embarrassing tale that introduces us to each of the key characters. We warm to them immediately, fully buying into the couple’s relationship.
Just as the mother is heading off she drops an innocuous comment about something that happened when she was looking after their son. A minor thing to her, she’d been holding two trays of food and was in the process of paying when Joshua decided he needed to use the bathroom. Clearly flustered, a man in the queue had kindly offered to take him. Somewhat understandably, Maddy and Rory both flip out demanding to know who the man was, how long they were gone for, etc, while the mother is mystified, having always trusted her judgement of character of people. It’s a fascinating window in the different generations and brought me many conflicting thoughts. In some ways I absolutely see where the couple’s shock comes initially but when this single event causes them to lose control as their concern shifts from the care of their child to the distrust of those around them it, becomes apparent things are going too far.
The central premise reminded me of Inception, where Leo plants an idea into his wife’s head that wrecks untold damage to her mental wellbeing. Here we’re presented with a similar thread: the loss of trust in a family friend as it toxifies her thoughts, corroding the person she used to be. The stage is simple: a dining room table where the majority of conversations are held and alongside this a child’s play swing that casts a long shadow hanging from the rafters. However once the theme of abuse has infiltrated their minds, a symbol of this chaos is visualised when a crate of children’s building bricks is thrown across the stage that remains for nearly the entire play.
Following the event, both of their lives are sent spinning as they struggle to get a grip on the event. It’s an ever escalating concern that engulfs the both of them. What if their child had been kidnapped? What if something had happened? What if something did happen? How do you know if your child is okay? It’s the unknowing that eats away at them. While the husband soon manages to come to terms with the mistake and forgive, Maddy is unable to. Her trust in close family members has been shattered from this single event and it starts to affect her personal life as she pulls her child close from the unknown horrors that she’s sure awaits him out there. As things degrade, Maddy stops Joshua going to nursery, meaning she takes a sabbatical from work too, the isolation ramping up inside which she bottles up, bar the outward displays of distrust: keeping him on reins all the time; refusing to let the mother look after him anymore; smothering him.
Fortunately, Gut remains grounded throughout, allowing each audience member to discover when things have gone too far and when help should be required. Even though I do not have children, I recognised a lot of worries I’ve had myself with trust and events that led to losses of trust.
Gut was a sensational experience. The tightly packed Traverse Theatre was deathly silent for the full ninety minutes, as the lights came back up, the man next to me told his partner that he’d forgotten to breathe during most of it. I concurred, finding the experience engrossing and the performances naturalistic and flawlessly written.
Gut runs at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh until Sat 12th May.