Monday, 18 July 2016

Review: Stalking the Bogeyman – Southwark Playhouse

Based on true events and adapted from David Holthouse’s original 2004 newspaper article, Stalking the Bogeyman tells the story of David’s quest for revenge on the man who raped him when he was just seven years old.

With the audience seated around three sides of Southwark Playhouse’s smaller studio venue, the remaining stretch of wall is plastered with newspaper clippings, creating a slight sense of entrapment and establishing the intimate nature of the performance.

The play begins with David (Gerard McCarthy) alone on stage, revealing to the audience that this time last year he was plotting to kill a man. For the remainder of the performance McCarthy switches between addressing the audience directly from this controlled place in the present, bounding around the stage in the past as a young David, and struggling with his troubled mental state the previous year whilst he was planning his revenge. McCarthy transforms from naïve and traumatised young boy to calculating yet unstable adult with the full force of his vocal and physical capabilities and convincingly captures both.

There is no doubt that Mike Evans has a difficult job in portraying the Bogeyman, as both the 17-year-old who sexually assaults a child, and as the adult who struggles to come to terms with what he did all those years ago. Evans’ initial performance is perhaps a little too energetic and animated for a 17-year-old, even for one who is playing pretend games with his young neighbour. But he manifests the anger, violence and guilt of his character in a skilfully controlled manner throughout the rest of the performance.

The remaining four actors, who appear primarily as the two boys’ parents, also fill in any extra characters, from David’s drug dealer to their school baseball coach. All four performers display consistently impressive versatility and a natural adjustment from one character to the next, particularly as they don’t so much as leave the room in between.

David Holthouse and Markus Potter’s script has a well-balanced structure in its alternating scenes and also boasts effortlessly natural dialogue throughout, which never seems forced or awkwardly phrased. Although the plot has a strong development, with some really gripping moments, the ending does seem to trail off a little, falling somewhat flat, though perhaps this is the very point of David’s conclusion; absolute closure is just not physically possible.

One thing that is surprising about this production, given the subject matter, is that fundamentally it’s not an intense watch. Of course, it’s an undeniably powerful play that speaks up about a really important issue, but the way in which the action is presented seems to detach the audience from any deep emotional connection to the characters.

In fact, what really added this missing depth to the production for me, was the Q&A that followed with the director/ co-adaptor, the cast and David Holthouse himself. It was so moving to hear from David first hand, to learn about their creative process and decisions and to hear from a number of audience members who were also survivors and who reiterated that Stalking the Bogeyman is an extremely important piece of theatre.

Stalking the Bogeyman is playing at Southwark Playhouse until 6th August 2016. Huge thanks to Theatre Bloggers for making this review possible.

*I was gifted my ticket in exchange for a review, but all opinions are my own.

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