On a day that Prince Harry publicly confessed that he had not spoken about his Mother’s death until he was twenty-eight there was a kind of symbolic symmetry to be watching a play entirely dedicated to not talking/not telling.
The subject matter of Stalking The Bogeyman is harrowing: child rape. Not, as the writers are at pains to tell us, child molestation; not fondling nor stroking nor just mere touching: but – child rape. It’s not a pretty or comfortable subject. And this is not a pretty or comfortable play.
It’s based on the true story of David Holthouse, now a journalist, who has co-written the play with Director Marcus Potter and it’s a story that is graphic, heart-rending, mesmeric and ultimately deeply disturbing. A boy’s childhood is brutally taken from him, his life is forever compromised and the search for answers, for closure, is always going to be futile. Loss of innocence is too easy an epithet for what takes place between rapist and victim: it’s actually extortion of innocence. The victim keeps paying, throughout adolescence, through his troubled teenage years and into his unsettled adult life. It’s not helped when the perpetrator of his kidnapped psyche keeps turning up like a bad penny.
Amongst an accomplished ensemble cast, Mike Evans, as the rapist/Bogeyman of the title, is outstanding. He lurches from clean-cut boy next door, through uncompromising sports jock, to psychotic Kendo-sword-wielding torturer and ultimately mewling, snivelling, egocentric, self-proclaimed victim begging for forgiveness. We get the full gamut from Evans, he’s totally convincing and entirely believable to the extent that we start to be convinced it was all just a terrible mistake. Most sex-offenders are consummate liars and those high-profile cases of guilty men languishing in jail and refusing to admit or acknowledge their guilt underlines that. This Bogeyman has a new take: admit it; say sorry; move on – to the next victim.
Gerard McCarthy as the victim (the original name – David Holthouse – is used in the script) handles the anguish and the angst of his predicament well but unfortunately falls into the trap of playing his seven-year- old self in kid-cliché mode: put on a funny voice, rush around a bit and play the part as an adult sees the child not as the child sees himself. Switching, in character, from adult to child, should be done through careful scripting not through adding embarrassing embellishments which, frankly, just don’t work. Better, maybe, extend the use of the excellent stylised sequences that punctuate the show: McCarthy should narrate from “outside” the action as Evans creates the scene without the embodiment of the actual victim. The sinister Evans would, I have no doubt, be able to carry this off and enhance the dramatic tension – and disgust – of the moment.
Glynis Barber and Geoffrey Towers as the victim’s parents are suitable middle-class American stereotypes and John Moraitis, who turns up in a variety of roles, lends able support, as does Amy Van Nostrand as the Bogeyman’s Mum: did his parents really have no inkling of what was going on with their son? Just don’t go there – is the usual get-out clause.
Nostrand as her other character, Molly the drug-dealer, was less convincing – not that she did not play the part well but this particular drug-dealer is more akin to a prim and proper schoolmarm, dealing a cocktail of pills and hard drugs out of a cigar box like she’s doling out Smarties. She swaps rape stories with David in a laconic, off-the- cuff way which desensitises their ordeals which may be the point: but the seediness and visceral nature of their experiences is lacking and her statement that “drug dealers don’t have friends – just customers” did not ring true in this cosy, fireside-chat environment. It wasn’t helped by David sitting in the front row of the audience whilst talking to Molly. The rest of the cast, when not on stage, sat in the auditorium and changed costume there which as a theatrical device worked fine. But David deliberately leaving the stage in these sequences was not so much breaking the fourth wall as, in the floor-level thrust stage of the Playhouse, breaking part of the side wall on the left. For a drug-dealing sequence that is bad breaking.
I assume that Potter’s reasoning for this is his fixation on the sexual assault stats for the UK: 1 in 5 women, 1 in 6 men. Putting David in the audience, he is suggesting, makes it real, makes us look at the audience and wonder… I think the play makes that case strongly anyway and these sequences weaken the theatricality of the piece. I would also suggest that the play is 15 minutes too long, diluting the strength of the message somewhat and some of the over-writing (a consequence of having five writers credited, perhaps) could be trimmed – particularly in those drug-dealing sequences.
Rachel Stone’s design for the show is brilliant: a kind of neat three-dimensional collage decorating all four sides of the space with essential props tucked conveniently into drawers and crevices with a liberal distribution of news-cuttings and journalistic scribblings. This is complemented by Rob Casey’s excellent Lighting Design – thrust stages are always problematic – with true distinction between reality and the stylised sequences. The original music by Eric T. Lawson skilfully delineates the discomfiting mood of the piece and David Gregory’s sound should be applauded if only for the excellent baseball effect.
I don’t think anyone can come away from this production with a sense of warmth about themselves or about their fellow human beings: there’s no inbuilt feel-good factor or happy ending. The Telling Company wants us all to overcome the stigma, to tell, to share our direst experiences – charities like NAPAC (The National Association for People Abused in Childhood), SurvivorsUK, One-in- 6, Safeline and SoSAA (Survivors of Sexual Abuse Anon) – are promoted by the Company. But the awful truth is that many more children will suffer, most will suffer in silence and, despite the best efforts of this enlightening play, not talking/not telling will continue to be part of the problem.
Review by Peter Yates
Twenty-five years after he was sexually assaulted, award-winning journalist David Holthouse learns his ‘bogeyman’ has moved to his new neighbourhood. Armed with a pistol and a plan, he plots to enact revenge on the man who stole his childhood.
First told in the Denver Westwood newspaper and subsequently featured on the popular weekly radio broadcast This American Life, Stalking The Bogeyman opened to critical-acclaim off-Broadway in 2014. Starring Gerard McCarthy (The Fall, Hollyoaks, Beautiful Thing) with Glynis Baber (EastEnders, Beautiful: The Carole King Story), this thrilling true story of one man’s search for vengeance arrives at London’s Southwark Playhouse this July.
David Adkin and NewYorkRep present
Stalking the Bogeyman
By Markus Potter and David Holthouse
with additional writing by Santino Fontana, Shane Zeigler and Shane Stokes
Director – Markus Potter
Set & Costume Designer – Rachel Stone
Lighting Designer – Rob Casey
Sound Designer – David Gregory
Original Music – Erik T Lawson
Casting Director – Anne Vosser
Producer – David Adkin
Producer – NewYorkRep
Associate Producer of NewYorkRep – The Telling Company
Associate Producer of NewYorkRep – Adam Richman
Associate Producer of NewYorkRep – Joel Fisher
David Holthouse – Gerard McCarthy
Bogeyman – Mike Evans
Nancy Holthouse – Glynis Barber
Russ Crawford – John Moraitis
Robert Holthouse – Geoffrey Towers
Carole Crawford / Molly – Amy Van Nostrand
Start Time Mon – Sat 8pm
Matinee Starts Tue & Sat 3.30pm
Running Time 75 mins