Anchorage, 1978: the teenage son of a couple who are friends with his parents, rapes seven-year-old David Holthouse in the basement of their house. His attacker doesn’t fit the clichéd stereotype of a paedophile but is a wholesome teenage athlete. David hides the secret of what has happened to him and tries to bury the trauma that he’s suffered. Years later, working as a journalist and relying on drugs to help him get through the darker days he hears that his abuser, married with a stepson, is now living in the same town as him again. David decides that he must kill him and sets about procuring a gun and tracking him down.
It’s a horrific yet redemptive story that originally came to prominence as a podcast on “This American Life”. Writer Markus Potter worked with Holthouse to devise a cleverly paced play that is laden with creeping menace. This is no turgid or mawkish misery memoir but is a well-written and moving reflection on the experience of suffering childhood rape and how one man dealt with a traumatic incident and the ensuing shockwaves. Holthouse’s journalistic talent shows through and his words are powerful and precise.
The six actors stay on stage throughout, lurking in the audience and the intricate set by Rachel Stone takes over the whole of the theatre with images of eyes pasted around the walls amongst the otherwise innocuous 1970s furniture and paraphernalia of an all American childhood. This all combines with David Gregory’s atmospheric sound design, Erik Lawson’s music and a well-planned lighting design by Rob Casey to recreate something both familiar yet shockingly alien. It’s a world of Garfield duvet covers, Atari games and Mr Potato Head but there’s something rotten at its core.
The cast are universally strong and manage to overcome the often-difficult task of adult actors playing children in sections of the play. Gerard McCarthy plays David with subtlety and this is a compelling performance, in spite of him struggling a little with the accent at times. Amy Van Nostrand plays a real blinder as David’s ex-stripper drug dealer who is also a victim of childhood rape.
It’s a terrifying play to watch and there’s a nauseating creepiness about Mike Evan’s ‘Bogeyman’ that conflicts with his air of wholesome and muscular appeal. In spite of the heavy subject matter there’s a light smattering of humour that makes watching this more bearable. This is a thought provoking and witty piece with superb production values that is well worth catching.
- Original story and script adaptation by David Holthouse
- Director: Markus Potter
- Cast includes: Glynis Barber, Mike Evans, Gerard McCarthy, John Moraitis, Geoffrey Towers, Amy Van Nostrand
- Southwark Playhouse, London
- Until 6 of August 2016
- Review by Chris Bridges
- 16 July 2016