The Traverse Theatre has long prided itself on supporting new writing, both from Scotland and beyond. Over the years, the theatre has been celebrated for showcasing emerging and established writers, pairing high-quality scripts with a strong production team. With Kolbrún Björt Sigfúsdóttir on board as director, along with a deceptively simple but sophisticated set designed by Kenneth MacLeod, Iain McClure’s new play faced high expectations. Sadly though, a convoluted plot renders ChildMinder a thrill-less thriller.
Spanning decades, ChildMinder follows the life of Edinburgh-born Joseph. Once a child psychiatrist in his home city, Joseph finds himself later living as a professor in New York, hoping to start a life with his (much younger) partner, Cindy. As Cindy coaxes Joseph to tell her more about him, the man she wants to commit to, the action jumps back to various moments of Joseph’s past and the life that he would rather forget.
On paper, the plot sounds reasonably straight forwarded. However, ChildMinder struggles with an array of structural and pacing issues. It is not firmly rooted in either the past or present, and the task of following the various narrative threads is made all the more complicated by the length of some expositional scenes (with one lasting at least 40 minutes). There are also various extraneous plot elements that are incorporated in an attempt to add layers of depth or relevance to the action. However, McClure’s handling of these themes – from indigenous genocide to child abuse – feels trivial and leaves a lot to be desired. As a whole, the script lacks the coherence and sharpness needed to keep its audience on edge.
It is during the show’s dramatic climax that one of McClure’s greatest oversights is revealed; the fact that the main concept of the play – that Joseph has unwittingly returned to the same place where a traumatic incident took place years prior – is not once referenced in the script. Those who have walked into Traverse 2 without reading the synopsis will not understand the significance of Joseph’s entrapment in a (weirdly futuristic) luxury apartment in Edinburgh, and the sudden appearance of ghosts from his past.
Consequently, and despite their best efforts, the trio of actors cannot make ChildMinder feel remotely believable. The relationship between Joseph (Cal MacAninch) and Cindy (Mara Huf) is both unconvincing and uncomfortable to watch, particularly as he repeatedly focuses on her beauty and exoticises her Native American heritage. There is also a level of disconnect between the performers’ acting styles; MacAninch’s performance is hushed and understated, while Huf brings an exaggerated energy that feels forced. Rounding off the trio is Ben Ewing, who manages to bring some humour to the overextended dinner scene. However, a few laughs does not make up for the play’s painstakingly slow pace.
It is an understatement to describe McClure as ambitious; he has done all he can to cram as many twists and turns into the plot as he can. Sadly, ChildMinder’s bloated narrative leaves it devoid of the eerie suspense that this production sets out to create.