STALKING THE BOGEYMAN is certainly a play of stealth. It sneaks up on you, more shock than awe, to insinuate itself in a creepy, thought provoking, emotionally exhausting way that had my friends arguing loudly over our after-matinee dinner. Would you or wouldn’t you, did you believe him, all sorts of questions flying. Helmed by a terrific performance, this show is a conception which will furtively stalk you for days after.
We meet the ManDavid. He speaks to us directly. I was raped when I was 7, I carry it still, I intend to stalk my abuser down and kill him. As he plans meticulously in the present we are also witness to past events for which he plans retribution. Through his eyes in flashback, the man morphing into BoyDavid before us, we meet his loving parents, Nancy and Robert. And we meet the Bogeyman: 17 year old Nathan also has loving parents, Russ and Carol. Both man and boy will tell their story.
The role of David is taken by Graeme McRae and it is an extraordinary achievement. Never off stage, David’s story requires a deft touch. Written by David Holthouse (the David of the play) and Markus Potter this acclaimed play is directed by Neil Gooding with a spare, reserved feel which is almost Brechtian. A conceptualisation which allows the story to unfold with a distance of observation that avoids the sentimental and empathetic, foregrounding the lived experience of trying to make it through each day after your life is changed irreparably.
McRae has superbly modulated this performance. Alone in a hazy spotlight, from the first time he speaks to us, the depth of his creation is palpable. We understand that there’s a logic and matter-of-fact smallness to the task of killing the bogeyman in the present but we also see the blankness of the tortured 10-year-old in flashback or the constriction of a child in physical pain. In that beginning moment, though, we connect with him immediately and that engagement travels with us for the rest of the play. Beginning with his transforming seamlessly into the excitable little boy who is slightly awed by football star Nathan. (Radek Jonak)
Jonak displays a chilling focus despite being so active and constantly in movement. He’s always watching David in a constant assessment of threat or opportunity. This character also bears the weight of David’s memory and seems older than 17 as we witness the manipulatory grooming which elides into creepy menace and outright violence. And the hypocrisy of the polite and respectful young man around the parents is beautifully placed as a counterpoint.
The parents, and assorted other characters are played by Noel Hodda, Deborah Jones, Alexander Palacio and Anne Tenney and there is uniform excellence in their work. Tenney is brittle and knowing as David’s confidante, Molly and Palacio is all repression and held in threat as banger Payaso. But it is the enclosed bonhomie of parental dinner parties which expresses the intimacy of BoyDavid’s world and brings the power to Nathan’s “Friends always have secrets.” However, when secrets do come to light there is such reality in the telling. Cold, hard shock. No theatrics or histrionics here.
There is also a stellar lighting cue. It is evident that one of the pair of parents has talked long and hard about how they will approach their son with what they know and as they begin, there’s a gloom and shadows around the set. However, as the conversation develops, the cold hard white light gently grows, almost unnoticeably to just below glare. It’s just one of the perfectly realised and placed technical aspects of the show.
For starters, this a very detailed set: family photos on the wall, touch tone phone, burnt orange chairs and lived-in cellar sofas. Yet it allows for open acting spaces, and further, it juxtaposes an interior lighted doll’s house with a lit world globe according to a scene’s thematic content. The mix of colours is terrific … reds subtly used with other broad colours like high spectrum purple to underscore disorientation. And, wonderfully evoked, no blue at night! Audio, similarly replete in its restricted use. With eerie gaming music just under implicated renderings of violence and rumbly, bassy music slinking in under later events and reveals.
For this is gut punch theatre by stealth. STALKING THE BOGEYMAN is an important, relevant story to tell. Unfortunately, not a rare story. Much art is made around the brutality and consequences of child rape and has been for a while now. Long enough, anyway, for compassion fatigue to rear an ugly head. But the truthtelling mustn’t stop and at this time, in this intimate space, with this cast, this production bears witness with humanity and authority.