Back in July, the Arts Theatre (of death!) was all but doomed to permanent closure: a costly and extensive string of flops, combined with urban redevelopment plans, meant the end of a long running and historic theatre. Fortunately the venue has been saved by new owners management, and with a renovated front of house (it’s nice and airy but has fewer places to sit), but what of the debut play itself?
Toyer, adapted by Gardner McKay from his original novel and directed by William Schoular, is a standard two-hander suspense thriller a la The Woman in Black or Dark Yellow. Maude, a psychiatrist, is deeply unnerved as she gets home after a long day of work: her job involves looking after the victims of the Toyer, a serial assaulter who drugs and lobotomises his female victims. She’s been the target of voyeurs and stalkers before, and combined with the current madman on the loose is on the edge, medicating herself through alcohol. After another frustrating day at work, she arrives home only to be interrupted by the slightly disturbing neighbour who offered to fix her car...
I’d go further into the story, but anything else from here would be a massive spoiler. I will, however, attempt to make a few spoiler-free general observations. First, there is a stage direction which gives up the game pretty early on. After the event in question occurs, I kept wondering if it would be undone or not, but as the play approached the end it became clear that my early hunch was right. Bad director. Bad.
Second, a major plot twist is undone if anybody checks their watches during the brief 80 minute runtime. As the seats at the Arts aren’t the most comfortable - they were NOT part of the renovations - I did twice. After that point it was waiting for each of the shoes to drop, as fans of the genre will be able to predict the remainder. Not literally, though plenty of other articles of clothing did. Stage nudity is always a plus.
Despite these issues (the first can be fixed, the second not so much), there are some genuinely frightening and suspenseful moments in the show. Alice Krige is very late 80’s cliche as Maude in a way which makes her one of those vulnerable ice queen types. Her acting’s not particularly deep, but it’s effective and when given the chance to monologue she shines. Al Weaver, on the other hand, is genuinely creepy. I can honestly say that I have no idea how either of them manage to perform this piece eight times a week, as my brain would be thoroughly and totally fucked by the end of each performance.
In short, it’s a good but not great return for the Arts, and London audiences dig this kind of play so we may actually see something at this great space actually finish a run that’s longer than a week. Or at least we can hope.
Where: Arts Theatre
When: Until 11 April. M-Sa @ 19:30, W/Sa @ 15:00
How Much: £22.50-£29.50
Concessions: £20 M-Th only. All seats £15 until 24 Feb.
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £15. It’s so short that a higher ticket price would feel like a rip-off.
RZ Other Notes: I found myself wondering how the furniture manages to stay in place on the hellishly raked stage, but otherwise liked the set quite a bit.