When it comes down to it, how strong is anyone’s gut? This is the crux of Frances Poet production, brought to stage by Zinnie Harris. The narrative centres around the lives of Maddy and Rory, the perfect example of an urban middle class couple, and parents to three year old Joshua. The opening scene sets the tone for the entire play, as Rory’s mother Maddy happens to mention an incident involving a “stranger” and his interaction with Joshua. What follows is a riveting performance from Kirsty Stuart as Maddy, as she grapples with the notion that something may have happened to her little boy.
Gut deals with a lot of nuances in parenting – most notably, how parenting has changed from generation to generation, as society has become more acutely aware of the crimes that are frequently committed against children. It also allows the audience to chart Maddy’s mental journey, as she goes from being laid back to a helicopter parent, becoming increasingly obsessed about the safety of her child. Peter Collins who plays Rory provides a good balancing act to Maddy’s character. Although he sometimes fuels her anxiety by adding to her worries, and he is definitely more brash in some scenes, in the second half he is clearly the one of a sound mind. Maddy’s ‘demon’ eventually appears in the form of a stranger – played by George Anton – in a bright pink shirt. At times he’s a next door neighbour, sometimes a man from a charity – but always too close in proximity to Joshua’s world for Maddy to relax. Anton’s character as the anthropomorphisation of Maddy’s hysteria lends a visceral quality to the production.
The use of children’s toys as props, accompanied by the clever use of lights, means that the production is panned out on a very simple set – no distractions. This keeps the focus deliberately on the central characters, which works well. This is Frances Poet‘s debut full-length play, yet her rich arts and theatre background shines through in the tightness of the script and the tying up of loose ends at the end. Overall, Gut is a piece of great storytelling that brings to life the test of being a parent.