BWW Review: TOYER at Bakehouse Theatre
Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Wednesday 24th January 2018
A new company, Leading Line Productions, and Tony Knight Productions are currently presenting Gardner McKay's play, Toyer: An Unavoidable Tragedy, adapted from his novel, at the Bakehouse Theatre under the direction of Tony Knight, past Head of Acting at Australia's National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA).
Maude Christopher, a psychiatrist, is single, and she lives alone in a small house in Randall Canyon, near Los Angeles. Arriving home, clearly shaken, she locks up carefully behind her, as there have been reports of a psychopath, dubbed 'Toyer', in the area. He meets, seduces, drugs, and lobotomises his victims, toying with them as a cat does a mouse, and leaving them as vegetables. Maude has been treating some of them and has just left his twelfth victim.
Suddenly, there is knocking on the door by a man, a stranger, whose name turns out to be Peter. He claims that all he wants is his torch, which she still has in her possession from when he helped her with car troubles earlier that night. He also insists that he needs to use her telephone to call his housemate to determine whether to go home, or to travel in the opposite direction in order to pick him up first, implying to her that he is in a gay relationship. Published in 1992, the play's age is showing in this need to use her phone as an excuse to be admitted. Very few people now do not have a mobile telephone.
She eventually lets him in, and the psychological warfare begins as he toys with her and attempts to dominate and seduce, whilst she uses all of the knowledge and skills of her profession in her defence. His identity, though, is elusive. First, he claims to be a palmist, and offers to read her palm. He then says that he is a voyeur, and is her peeping Tom. Later, he claims to be an actor. Only time reveals whether or not he is the 'Toyer', a good Samaritan, an actor, or whatever else might come to mind.
McKay draws heavily on the phenomenon of Stockholm syndrome in this work, as the protagonist and her antagonist play out their complex and ever-changing conflict and the shifting balance of power. It is not always clear who is the cat, and who the mouse.
Stefanie Rossi and Marc Clement play Maude and Peter in this tense psychodrama, creating a very disturbing atmosphere, especially intense in the intimate confines of the Bakehouse Theatre. This piece demands, and has, two outstanding performers, and an equally remarkable director. Rossi and Clement each establish a three-dimensional and highly believable character, which translates to a sensational interplay over the course of the short time that Maude and Peter they spend together in her tiny kitchen/lounge.
To say more about the actual content of the play, would be to spoil it for future audiences, and one could take pages enthusing about the performances and direction, not to mention Stephen Dean's very effective lighting design. Suffice to say that this is going to be a benchmark for the Adelaide theatre scene this year, so be sure you get a ticket for one of the few remaining performances.