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Stalking the Bogeyman (Southwark Playhouse)

The dark thriller tells the story of a journalist plotting revenge against the man who sexually assaulted him

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Silence can be bought at a very heavy price. What happened in a basement in Alaska in 1981 has haunted David Holthouse since he was 7 years old. And David is not only the central character in this searing new drama – he is also a real person, and this is his story, written by him with the director Markus Potter. Thus we get an extra tang of authenticity and a very personal take on a case of child rape.

But it's not just the rape that has changed his life as he grows older: it's his desire for revenge against the perpetrator. He plots to murder him, but we know from the outset that this is not the actual course that he - and we - will follow. He had been thrown together with a much older playmate, Nathan Crawford, when his parents become "new best friends" with their cribbage-playing neighbours in Anchorage. And this is where the one weakness in the play lies: is it really credible that a seven-year-old boy would have been encouraged to play with a boy ten years his senior, and bursting with sports-mad, high school testosterone?

In reality, we are told in the programme, the rapist was 14, and that seems to make more sense. A 14-year-old can still be perceived by his parents as young enough to strike up a friendship with a younger boy, and old enough to take responsibility for him. But with a ten-year age difference the boys would have far less in common and the relationship would appear more questionable even to the dimmest parent. So why the change to 17? How does it help the drama - so much else seems so painfully true to David's real experience?

Both characters are played as their grown-up selves and their younger selves by the same actors: Gerard McCarthy has a cool intensity as the older David searching for a solution to his past, and is equally convincing as his puppyish seven-year-old self, while Mike Evans as Nathan, the "Bogeyman", shows us how a boy on the edge of manhood can be coerced by his own physical urges into a vicious assault and then expect to play video games with his victim.

The question the play poses at the end is whether in his admission of guilt the "Bogeyman" is truthful in saying it had never happened again since that fateful day. Is his regret genuine? Was it a one-off occurrence for which he "cannot give an answer"? Or is he playing the best card he has left to play when confronted by David?

The self-absorption of both sets of parents is well caught by Glynis Barber and Geoffrey Towers as the Holthouses, and Amy van Nostrand and John Moraitis as the Crawfords. The Holthouses' eventual discovery of the truth is even more heartbreaking in that it has taken until their son is nearly 30 years old to realise that anything had ever been wrong.

The play is about a lot more than child rape – it stirs up the whole thick and murky pool of human desires, denials, guilt, pain, psychological damage, and the fear that demons can strike from one generation to the next. It's not comfortable viewing, and nor is it meant to be, but it is skilfully woven together and expertly played by the cast of six.

Equally impressive are the original music by Eric T Lawson and the sound design by David Gregory, which form a subtle and evocative backdrop to a grim story that ends on a note of hope.

Stalking the Bogeyman runs at the Southwark Playhouse until 6 August.

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