“In my day, we trusted people. We knew there were some bad apples but we thought most people were good.” So says Morven, grandmother of unseen three-year-old Joshua, in genuine frustration to his mother Maddy who, during the course of Frances Poet’s Gut, becomes increasingly neurotic about even the merest possibility that he was sexually molested by some unknown male stranger that Morven unthinkingly allowed to take Joshua into the supermarket cafe toilets.
A startling, worrying essay on why trust in our fellow man is a requisite for civilisation.
This isn’t about sexual abuse; rather, Gut is focused on a mother’s cracked trust in the people around her, and how the maternal instinct to protect can be taken to horrendous extremes. It’s about how the smallest doubt can undermine “gut instinct”, giving the equivalent of a super-growth serum to the concept of “stranger danger”. Yet, for much of the time, we’re easily on Maddy’s side; her fear – initially shared by her husband Rory – is understandable. Her growing uncertainty is all too credible, not least because director Zinnie Harris casts George Anton as the various other “Strangers” she encounters.
For Anton does 'creepy' really well, whether playing a stoned neighbour, police officer, social worker or fellow parent. His habit of upturning boxes of nursery toys, left scattered across Fred Meller’s clinically clean set, is a visually succinct means of suggesting the disorder and danger from which Maddy believes she’s protecting her son. Here, Kirsty Stuart gives a layered, grounded performance as Maddy; she’s suitably balanced by Peter Collins, who as Rory has the far from showy task of embodying calm stability. Lorraine McIntosh, meantime, gives us a sweet, caring grandmother at a loss to her daughter-in-law’s reaction.
Harris effectively underscores Maddy’s unease with sound samples from the old Charlie Says cartoon public information films which, arguably, scared generations of children – though not necessarily for the right reasons – during the 1970s and 1980s. In terms of the script Poet may ultimately pull her final punch – we don’t spiral down into the rabbit hole – but Gut nevertheless remains a startling, worrying essay on why trust in our fellow man is a requisite for civilisation.