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Published 26 February 2009

Psychological thrillers are currently a rarity on the West End stage, but the Arts theatre addresses this situation as it reopens with American author Gardner McKay’s play Toyer.

We meet psychiatrist Maude in her sleek, monochrome, low-lit home, designed by Ruari Murchison with screen doors that flicker with shadows and windows that seem to evoke a sense of rural isolation beyond the house, down in the garden where a voyeur has been watching.

Maude, we quickly learn, has been working on a hideously disturbing case in which 12 young girls have been drugged and lobotomised by an unknown figure referred to as ‘the Toyer’ because of the way he toys with his victims before putting them into a permanent vegetative state.

When a young man, who earlier that day fixed Maude’s car, arrives at her home under some lame pretence late in the evening, playwright McKay sets up the premise that this seemingly innocuous boy, Peter, could actually be the deranged criminal in question – or not.

 Alice Krige, as Maude, depicts a strong, intelligent, independent woman at the top of her game who nevertheless has some psychological issues of her own due to her experiences in life.  She thinks she knows how to react to the young man in her presence, and yet gets drawn in by him, whether by loneliness or a grudging respect.

Al Weaver ably displays a dual personality as he flits between the camp, innocent and physically fragile student actor Peter, and his threatening, imposing alter-ego which could be the Toyer or could just be an accomplished – if ill-advised – demonstration of his acting skills. As a result, both Maude and the audience are never quite sure what to believe.

As night turns into day, the scenario loses a touch of the fear factor that had drawn several gasps from the audience; however, McKay’s cat-and-mouse structure still manages to keep the audience wondering, even after the play’s final moments when one character seemingly triumphs over the other. But is it Maude, or is it Peter?



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