Whilst many would argue that theatre's primary motive is to entertain, the best type of theatre, in my opinion, challenges the way you think and makes you see the world through the eyes of another person. Markus Potter and David Holthouse's gripping and harrowing drama Stalking the Bogeyman does just this, and whilst it runs the risk of trivialising the text to label it as anyway entertaining, it's a necessary and thought-provoking insight into the true story of a man who is forced to live his life following childhood sexual abuse.
So many dramas based on true stories never quite feel real, but this play's real strength and unique gift is the fact that it truth is at its very core. Based on David Holthouse's remarkable story about being raped at the age of seven, and his abandoned plans to belatedly kill his now grown-up attacker, the drama has been adapted from a newspaper article and radio adaptation on This American Life. Some of the text is verbatim, many of the conversations entirely real, but the dramatic heart and integrity of the play offer a frank and highly powerful message.
That said, its style is completely unaggressive or militant in its delivery – we're not manipulated into pity or sympathy because of the subject matter, instead the story is presented in a simple and matter-of-fact way that allows you to connect and respond appropriately. It never feels hysterical or over emotional, at times it feels more like documentary theatre with the facts laid bare and the audience allowed the space to absorb, think and react. The piece's greatest strength is that it manages to push buttons, but never does so forcefully.
This style is matched by Potter's careful delivery and spirited direction that absorbs the audience and has each of the characters emerge from the auditorium to join the space in the frankest way possible. On a multi-functional playing space, he moves location effortlessly, balancing the realism within the text against an immersive expressionistic set that merges David's childhood bedroom and memories with his efforts to 'stalk' the bogeyman in order to find some solace.
Potter's control of the performances is perceptive and responds exactly to the needs of the text. It's clear the cast have found an effective tone and rhythm to the piece, and all six performers are so firmly on the same page in their performance styles that it ensures the story is never lost in the histrionics. Gerard McCarthy strikes a perfect balance in his delivery of Holthouse, delivering a finely crafted, sensitive and fully developed performance that manages to engage, teach and explain, never relying on tricks to short-cut an emotional response in the audience. He manages to display an innate calmness that absorbs the room, commanding our attention and maintaining our focus throughout his incredible journey – a perfect protagonist for such a challenging topic.
His performance is equally matched by Mike Evans as the Bogeyman who fully delivers in the final reconciliation scene, yet proves to be enough of an enigma for the audience to not fully dismiss and hate his character. Both sets of parents give stirring support, with Glynis Barber in particular delivering one of the most powerful scenes in the play, as David's mother calls Bogeyman's parents to tell them about their son, played with dignity and core strength that refuses to slip into the hysterical. As a company, the self-restraint and decorum with which the material is explored is fully effective in delivering its message, and utterly inspiring not only for fellow victims but for humanity as a whole.
There's no doubt that this is a difficult watch, and in the intimate surrounds of the Southwark Playhouse, the emotional effect on the audience is part of the shared experience. This is a challenging, thought provoking and vital piece of theatre that demands to be seen and proves not only the cathartic nature of performance, but also the importance of storytelling as a vital tool in our emotional and psychological response