Ailsa Benson Is Missing

The synopsis of this intriguing one-woman drama can more or less be summed up by its title: Ailsa Benson Is Missing. Schoolgirl Nina, played by Samara MacLaren, is fascinated as the police arrive at school and she appears on local news. However, Nina soon tires of the attention on Ailsa and begins to suspect that the key to this crime may lie closer to home. Under the direction of Marilyn Imrie, MacLaren switches between young and old Nina to provide a compelling mystery with a coming-of-age twist.

Nina’s theories on Ailsa’s whereabouts become more sinister

With a gripping crime at its core, this play had me guessing at possible scenarios throughout. Though we are only offered one perspective, MacLaren convincingly shows the devastating effect of this case on a close-knit community. In addition, by switching between young and old Nina, we can observe how the character has continued to be effected by the events of her childhood. Though adult Nina is heavily pregnant, this doesn’t feature into the plot as much as it could do and seems bolted on as an additional narrative component rather than weaved into the performance. Ailsa Benson Is Missing also concludes disappointingly. Its ending feels somewhat abrupt and, having been so thoroughly developed throughout, the mystery comes to a sudden halt.

In MacLaren’s performance, there are times when young Nina doesn’t seem quite young enough. The pink hoodie and bright trainers convey a youthfulness that doesn’t always come across. However, MacLaren manages to show an interesting tipping point when Nina’s banal theories on Ailsa’s whereabouts become more sinister and disturbed as the case haunts her imagination. Furthermore, she convincingly captures the mistrust and suspicion that floods through the school as news of Ailsa’s disappearance hits.

Fans of crime drama will enjoy Ailsa Benson Is Missing for its fascinating narrative. This may not be a perfect performance, but there’s at least a good story.

Reviews by Carla van der Sluijs

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The Blurb

Nina is 14. All she wants to do is to fall in love with a cardigan-wearing tree frog expert, decide on her perfect theme song and avoid her dad's trigonometry lessons. But when her friend Ailsa goes missing and the police turn up at school, everything is turned upside down and inside out... Reuniting the director and one of the stars of hit show The Fair Intellectual Club (**** Scotsman, Herald, Stage, Telegraph) for a compelling, haunting story about friendship, family and secrets. Directed by Marilyn Imrie and starring Samara MacLaren. 2018 Assembly (ART) Award shortlist.