There is nothing like a good new thriller and this broken-backed offering - cobbled together to re-open (yet again) the bedevilled little theatre in Great Newport Street that, in a previous era, was the launch pad of Waiting for Godot and so many other great plays and careers - is nothing like a good new thriller.
Toyer is written by American playwright Gardner McKay (“after graduating from Cornell University he became a sculptor” the programme informs us, unhelpfully; he’s also acted in countless television dramas in Hollywood). It’s one of those sexual tease jobs that involve a cornered woman in a night dress and a Peeping Tom psychopath; she’s a psychiatrist, he’s a garage mechanic and quite possibly a gay fruitcake who’s killed (or “disabled” in the play’s horrid vocabulary) a whole bunch of women before, and an Alfred Hitchcock-style “scopophiliac” to boot who likes watching women from a distance in various stages of undress.
Don’t we all, up to a point, but Al Weaver’s performance as the neighbourhood nutcase doesn’t make the character’s condition any more sympathetic than it should be (ie, not at all), and Alice Krige as the victim – why doesn’t she just run away in the first scene? – barely justifies her sad status by mooning around to the mood music of Madam Butterfly.
William Scoular’s production comes laden with weird recommendations such as “not since Hannibal Lecter has there been a literary character of such silken and absolute menace as Toyer”. Oh, really? Weaver, who was Ben Whishaw’s understudy in the Trevor Nunn Old Vic production of Hamlet, has a gangly strength and purpose about him that makes me wish I’d seen his unhappy Dane; but he’s deeply uninteresting in this role, and someone you just want to leave to stew in his own mixed-up juices.
The play’s shocking, but not in a good way. Krige dutifully removes her shirt but not so that we can really savour her body, unlike her visitor who indulges in a bout of violent sex in the upstage inner room. Three times he switches his identity – perhaps he’s just an actor after all, for heaven’s sake – and then there’s an incomprehensible sequence of drugged drinks and lethal smoothies dissolving into a ludicrous talk-in for “freaks like us”.
You begin to wonder what kind of illness produced the play in the first place, especially when the characters are never stabilised in order to make any dramatic statement and the production ends on a note of hostile, deeply unpleasant vampirism. Good theatre makes you feel better about yourself, and the world; this makes you feel ill.
- Michael Coveney