Can we trust a kind stranger? Who can we really leave our children with? In a world in which our children’s safety is of paramount importance, this is a tense play portraying the paranoid spiral of a mother who loses trust in those caring for her child.
Set in the home of loving couple Maddy (Kirsty Stuart) and Rory (Peter Collins), and their 3 year old Joshua, an episode in a local cafe makes the couple re-evaluate how they approach parenting and who they allow to take care of their child. What follows is a gradual descent into fear and paranoia with the audience waiting for the stress to break with bated breath. Ignoring a few clumsy attempts at comic relief, the plot is handled carefully and effectively with each step closer to a familial collapse ensuring the audience is filled with increasing dread.
The palpable tension of the play lends itself, not only to the plot, but to the brilliant set and lighting design. Fred Meller (Designer) and Kai Fischer (Lighting Designer) use a combination of opaque and translucent panels combined with icy lighting to create a hostile environment, lacking warmth or emotion. Without this, one cannot help but feel on edge in this ‘family home’.
Despite the intensity of the production, Zinnie Harris’ direction seems to lack focus when it comes to characterisation; a crime in a play that rests on the shoulders of four actors. The chemistry is absent between Stuart and Collins, with the marital dynamic feeling forced from the start, as when the couple is supposed to be at the peak of ‘marital bliss’, their physicality is more awkward than affectionate. In a few moments of conflict, the two scarcely seem to respond to each other as they speak their lines but fail to react to what the other says. Lorraine McIntosh, who plays the role of Morven, gives an amusing performance as the bustling mother-in-law, yet fails to provide more than a wooden sense of emotion in the more serious moments, with forced gestures and her anger portrayed through childlike huffing rather than a greater sense of emotion.
George Anton’s multiple roles as the various strangers the couple encounter are well done. In altering how he wears a jumper or shirt along with his posture and voice, Anton clearly presents a range of characters such as a fellow parent or a police officer. However, he is also utilised as a visual representation of the constant threat the mother feels, by lurking behind one of the stage panels creating a looming silhouette over the family scenes. This perhaps takes multi-rolling too far as there is little disparity between his characters and role as a threatening presence, ruining the bold secondary characters he creates and drawing attention away from the actual scenes going on centre stage.
One fears that Harris has rested on her laurels and relied heavily on design and plot without focusing enough on the powerful characters, leaving the performance with potential but little emotional depth. The production as a whole is effective in holding up a mirror to society and our approach to child safety, but we are left unsympathetic to the characters themselves, only invested in the play through Frances Poet’s story and the powerful aesthetics.
Runs until 12th May
Image: Mihaela Bodlovic