Gary Mitchell titled his play Trust accurately. While you're sitting in the Kirk Theatre watching this compact drama about the Northern Ireland Loyalist paramilitary, it seems as if every possible definition of the word has been worked into the fabric of the play.
Yet, in doing so, Mitchell hasn't violated his compact with the audience: this isn't an easy play about a difficult subject, but rather one with enough layers and complexities to fully justify its existence. Much of Trust is harsh and startling, with enough twists and turns of character and plot to keep you guessing up until the final moments.
That's no small achievement in a play dealing with a subject matter no doubt quite close to its author's heart: Mitchell's program biography explains that he lived in Rathcoole, North Belfast (also Trust's setting, though its events are occurring in the present day). Exactly how much of the play is based on truth is never exactly evident, but Mitchell's astute eye, ear, and even affection for these characters is evident even in the play's darkest moments.
And there are plenty of dark moments to be found in the story of the McKnight family, which must maintain a certain appearance of propriety while harboring a secret about their participation in Loyalist activities. As the events of the play develop, questions arise within the ranks of the Ulster Defense Association - and the ranks of the McKnight family and their friends - as to who can be trusted, who can't, and what the associated motives might be.
Much of this revolves around 15-year-old Jake (Dan McCabe), who's been having problems with other kids at school but refuses to tell his parents about them. Jake's father, Geordie (Ritchie Coster) is one of the prime movers and shakers of the resistance cell, and his wife Margaret (Fiona Gallagher) is a knowing co-conspirator. They try to give Jake the benefit of the doubt, but when family friend Trevor (Declan Mooney) attempts to help Jake at Margaret's behest, matters quickly spin out of control.
Trust is always at its strongest when it's focusing on the central family, though Geordie's friend Artty (played by Colin Lane) often seems somewhat extraneous. So do secondary characters Julie (Meredith Zinner) and Vincent (Kevin Isola), though they eventually get tied into the main plot (regarding their contributions to the UDA and the lengths to which they'll go to prove their own trustworthiness), but results are mixed. Mitchell doesn't need to strain to bring the outside conflict to the McKnight family; his writing for them is strong enough.
Director Erica Schmidt deserves some credit for keeping the play, which contains a number of scenes spread out over a surprisingly wide geographic area, under control and moving quickly. Shelly Sabel's lighting - which is often just as responsible as Antje Ellermann's nice-but-simple set for helping to depict the variety of locations required - is vital in helping Schmidt set the proper mood for the show. If darkness is occasionally a bit too prevalent, it's an otherwise effective job.
Gallagher gives the play's most impressive performance; her Margaret is motherly, but surprisingly hard-edged, a woman who accepts and even participates in some of the world's most ungainly horrors, but wants to protect her son from them as long as she can. Everyone else is fine: McCabe and Coster have a solid, pleasantly uncomfortable rapport with each other that makes them instantly identifiable as father and son; Lane's lightly comic portrayal of Artty is just right; and all the actors in the smaller roles come across well.
None of the performers or members of the creative team allow Trust's chilling and unforgiving texture to be sullied, and by the time the play's end arrives (it's somewhat abrupt, but well-supported), you have been completely drawn into the terrifying world of the characters. Mitchell's work, if occasionally a bit uneven, is full of surprises, tension, and real, pulsing blood: if you put your trust in him, and in the play he's devised, you won't find it at all misplaced.