Ailsa Benson Is Missing @ Assembly Rooms

A thought-provoking, compelling and suspenseful drama

Review by Deborah Klayman | 14 Aug 2018

Written and performed by Samara MacLaren, this thought-provoking one-woman play cleverly anchors its suspenseful story in the nostalgic 90s while sharing it through the eyes of a teenager caught up in the drama.

Set initially in the present day, we meet the adult Nina, an advocate awaiting the verdict of a trial. It becomes apparent that she is prosecuting a paedophile, and the case cannot help but remind her of her own experience when, in 1996, the eponymous Ailsa Benson, went missing. Nina recounts the story from the point of view of her 14-year-old self, bringing light to the sobering tale with nostalgic references to Mizz magazine and body shop lip balm. The well-observed elements of self-obsession, as young Nina focuses on the impact on herself, beautifully illustrate her confusion about this most adult of occurrences.

The choice to anchor Nina in the adult world is an interesting one, and allows MacLaren to show the impact of this singular event on the life and career that have followed. Simple costume changes denote the different time settings, aided by Marilyn Imrie’s thoughtful direction. Occasional voiceovers allow the audience to discover information about Ailsa’s case at the same time as Nina, and the mystery element of the piece is very compelling.

It is MacLaren’s performance, however, that really brings the piece to life, particularly as the wide-eyed teenager. The longer Ailsa is missing, the more impact it has on Nina, her classmates and her family. Striking just the right balance of humour and sincerity, this debut play will surely not be MacLaren’s last.

Ailsa Benson Is Missing, Assembly Rooms (Front Room), 2-25 Aug (not 13), 2.20pm, £9-£11

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