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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Arts Theatre       Spring 2009

It has been far too long since London had a really good theatrical thriller, which makes it particularly frustrating that this one, from American Gardner McKay, almost makes the grade before dissipating all its energy and petering out.

A madman has been attacking women, not killing them but performing a kind of lobotomy that leaves them as vegetables. The female doctor who has been caring for them is home alone when a young man knocks at her door.

Well, since this is a two-character play, there aren't going to be too many surprises after that.

What there will be is what has been obligatory in every thriller since Sleuth almost 40 years ago - lots of plot twists and turns to make us never quite sure who's doing what to who, who's the villain and who the victim, and whether what we've just seen with our own eyes was true or not.

And in the ever-shifting cat-and-mouse game between the two characters, the play does keep us just confused enough to be enjoying the puzzle - at least for the first hour or so of its 90-minute length.

But then either the playwright loses inspiration or we get smarter, because if you're not constantly one step ahead of him through the last twenty minutes, you're asleep.

And the minute we're not surprised by each new reversal, the play's hold on us collapses and we have time to notice the very many holes and illogicalities.

To make matters worse, the play ends with a long, static, talky scene that just fritters away whatever energy and tension have built up.

Until that final lull, director William Scoular moves things along at a fast enough pace to keep us on our toes.

Al Weaver clearly has fun portraying a character who himself plays several roles, meaning that the actor gets to be three or four different people in the course of the play.

Alice Krige has only one role, but as she is written to be in turn smart, foolish, brave, frightened, bizarre, drunk, randy, smart again, and mad - I 'm not sure I have those in the right order - the actress has real trouble making her believable at all.

If you are desperately hungry for a Sleuth-like thriller - and I understand the yearning - Toyer might just barely satisfy you, at least through most of its length. But I fear that, as with the Chinese restaurant of the old joke, you'll find yourself hungry again soon after.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of Toyer - Arts Theatre 2009

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