Every time I visit the Southwark Playhouse, I walk along Newington Causeway and remember to breathe. Playing host to many emotionally gripping dramas, the Southwark Playhouse gives me that nasty wake up call – called “reality” – and rebels against escapism and the glitzy glam of the entertainment industry. It’s Think Tank theatre, firing discussion and debate, rubbing salt into West End’s wounds, and preserving the very best alternative theatre alongside its mission of community spirit.
So let’s take a deep breath…and stalk the Bogeyman together…
Twenty-five years after he was sexually assaulted, award-winning journalist David Holthouse learns his ‘bogeyman’ has moved to his new neighbourhood. Armed with a pistol and a plan, he plots to enact revenge on the man who stole his childhood.
-Stalking the Bogeyman
Perfectly murdering my heart, Stalking the Bogeyman is a brutally intense, unforgiving drama. Following a young man robbed of his childhood, you’re gunning for him. This unexpected hunger for the silent bullet stirs the gut and protests against the heart. The sickening satisfaction for the resolution in death questions your judgement of justice. Stalking the past and hiding in the shadows of a somewhat future, Stalking the Bogeyman peeks around the corners of a teary eye.
Scrambling the wreckage of treasured youth, the revenge beats in his chest. Coining the perfect murder, the walls are splattered with the innards of investigation and lost childhood. From scribbled notes, highlighted newspaper clippings to childhood memorabilia and littered photographs, we walked into Rachel Stone’s set design of creepy visual vomit. With no nails, furniture clung onto the walls of devastation. A fragmented bedroom and a gun clenched in hand, David Holthouse (Gerard McCarthy) is a ticking time bomb, mulling over cover ups and consequences.
Resisting temptation to storm the stage and hug David, rape is a very hard topic to digest onstage. The loss of virginity and theatrical force of violation boils the raging steam from any nose and ear. Watching “7 year old” David zone in and out of his memory, the shocking monologue strained the boyish composure and ripped the born-free innocence from his Garfield duvet. The withering upper lip, drenching sweat and cementing glazed eyes, silence was sliced by the Bogeyman’s samurai sword.
Freezing his jock frame, the Bogeyman (Mick Evans) bursts onto the stage with macho, muscle pumped energy. Idolising and bantering, the Bogeyman dominates David by height and violence. His rough teenage spirit rapidly evolves into a haunting ghoul. This frightening personality switch-up disarms and dives the play fighting into the dark waters of adult content. Like a lamb led to slaughter, David is sacrificed.
Blackmailing the crime’s silence for unconditional love, David battles for words. His parents become his prime focus. Nancy Holthouse (Glynis Barber) provides the gentle maternal loving and soon responds to her lioness calling. Robert Holthouse (Geoffrey Towers) captures this beautifully rarely seen bond between father and son, comforting David after nightmares and playing baseball in the dark.
The Holthouse household is governed by love and the family unit continues to strengthen through trauma. The parents’ comforting touch heightens David’s wrecked soul and lumps his confession with my bitten lip.
Boasting of their son’s sporting achievements, the Bogeyman’s parents are unaware of the committed crime under their roof. Russ (John Moraitis) and Carole Crawford (Amy Van Nostrand) are the lively party hosts with aims of showing off. Gossiping and laughing, they create the perfect picture of happy families. Their histories are soon destroyed by Mrs Holthouse’s heartfelt telephone call.
Confiding in a drug dealer, David feeds his addiction and seeks therapy from Molly (Amy Van Nostrand). Their mutual understanding of sexual abuse enables them to exchange their memories alongside jokes and drugs. Molly laughs at David’s comparison “like being bitten by a werewolf”. Their scenes provide the highs and buzz out the constant negative tension of David’s collapsing world.
Ripping the gags and releasing the ties that bind, Stalking the Bogeyman shouts for victims. The cast and creatives are determined to “give voice to the voiceless” through their performance. Condensed to seventy-five minutes, the characters are “brutally honest” and this “unfiltered” memoir horrifies our loss of focus upon childhood sexual abuse. The play stands for the adult survivors and imagines the face off with the perpetrator. Stalking the Bogeyman doesn’t gloss over for dramatic effect, but spits out theatrical escapism for a powerful realisation.
Desperately trying not to jump the gun, David’s ultimatum blasts into the firing line. With an eerie showdown, their recollections descends the deathly decision. Circling and dazing his prey, David turns the table and feasts upon his raging heart towards the hunched Bogeyman. Like the Bogeyman and his samurai sword, David constantly massages the gun in his jacket pocket, imagining a sense of freedom. Battling between the highlands of forgiveness or revenge, the agony of closure leans out of the seat.
Normally, I end my blog posts with punny conclusions, but Stalking the Bogeyman demands dignity for its emotional roar. Highlighting suffering and surviving, this play mentally scars. Stirring the debate of forgiveness and justice, theatre acts as the courtroom and the audience witness the evidence. Stalking the Bogeyman is not based fiction, but on fact. This is what hurts the most.