I decided to take a friend to see this who has only just started their foray into theatre and opted for this because I didn’t know much about it. It would be easy to skip over this because it has no ‘big’ stars mugging around on stage or was in a particularly raved about venue. To be honest I hadn’t been to this theatre either so it was an experience for the both of us.
I’d read mixed reviews about it but decided to make up my own mind. It didn’t bode well when upon arriving we were told the Circle was closed (which was where I’d booked the tickets for) and we were told by an overly polite assistant that they were, “upgrading everyone’s tickets for them, free of charge”. We were then escorted to the third row. Brilliant seats of course, close to the action and not a penny more, not a pound less out of pocket. My friend and I surreptitiously glanced around to see that the house was less than half full making it blindingly obvious why we were being crammed into one space. It must be terrifying to look out as an actor and see bare minimum attendees; I’d possibly say that’s more strenuous than seeing no one. Speaking as being a lone member of an audience before you do feel this prickly pressure and can’t wait to race out as soon as the house lights flare up. It’s not just that I’ve seen some awful theatre it’s the idea that because there’s just you there’s this unspoken agreement that people can interact and ask opinions on an almost painful level. I once befriended some actors on the Royal Mile who were from youth group and coaxed me to see their production. It was an obliterated production of Peter Pan (the premise of what happened to the Lost Boys when Peter went to shack up with Wendy) where not only was I in the sparse audience but the actors onstage caught sight of me and acknowledged me throughout the whole piece. The doors could not open fast enough and for once I was covered by the pissing rain in Edinburgh as I ran and ran and ran…
Back to Toyer: I’d mentioned in my review of “Over There” about how the stage was set before the play itself began (although some could argue, myself being an advocate, that the play begins the moment you step into the auditorium). Toyer greeted me with an apartment of lavish proportions, almost industrial with its steel and clinical flashes of white and silver. In the background we heard a soundscape of dogs howling, crickets chirping and the occasional gravel being scraped. As I chatted to my theatre companion we both noted the stage appeared to be on an angle, raked even. It was no optical illusion, it was and at a harsh angle as well dipping towards the audience. I’m never too sure about fancy stagings until the play is in full swing to see it if adds or indeed hinders the overall experience. What I gathered is that it provided the actors with a playground of obstacles to manoeuvre around and incorporate into the momentum of the piece. What I was amazed by was their vigorous movements on stage and their ability (and of course agility) to treat it as if it were stable and flat ground. It did provide me with a tense apprehension that something may fall over or someone but the underlying current of the setting seeping into the atmosphere worked.
The play started and we were presented with Maude, a psychiatrist whose mind is clouded by anger on her latest case, “The Toyer”. The case in question is about a man who seduces his victims and terrorises them before rendering them useless trapped in their own body by severing their brain stems. Maude’s judgement of everything is somewhat blinkered if not hazy. She keeps a late night caller at the door locked out apparently because she’s cautious but then openly lets him in to her own surroundings when he needs to use the phone. This is Peter and he comes across as being an awkwardly-incapable-of-being-social fool. It then becomes a cat and mouse guess who game of whose fooling who and what’s really the truth.
Whilst I haven’t raved about this play I don’t particular write it off. It has strengths and weaknesses of which are only small niggling matters. The production was a two-hander making it an excellent tense set-up, but in the same breath it was slow and pandered to stereotypes in the first half. What the story needed was more guts to it, something to make the audience really question the characters rather than being fazed by some humdrum and lazy attempts at blindsighting. When the play ran hot it was on fire with strong performances and excellent delivery but in having its high points it showed the labour of the below-par moments that made it stick. I don’t think that was anything to do with the overall performance, I personally found the writing to be accountable. It was too standard and just too readily acceptable more use could be found in the situation. I felt that the play wrapped up in the first half and it just made you wait until it caught up with itself before you could leave.
I wasn’t bowled over by “Toyer” but the one thing I came away impressed with was Al Weaver’s performance as Peter, the late-night caller. He dealt with the over-bearing dialogue wonderfully and really got his teeth into it. Physically representing alter-egos on stage can be presented in a naff and cringeworthy way but this guy was fantastic and ran with the craziness that’s apparent in the text. Alice Krige, who played Maude, had an energy to her that I couldn’t quite place. She excelled in some places and fell short in others; again I think that’s an issue with her character rather than her performance.
I’m a strong believer in seeing the positive in everything and when I go see different types of theatre I’m on a constant learning curve because that’s how I choose to see things. There’s no point in hovering over the negative but what I can take away from pieces that I see that leave me cold or more perplexed than when I wandered in is where others go right and more importantly where they go wrong. “Toyer” taught me that pace, energy and tension are not to be sniffed and are need to be coaxed from the writing, not rushed for the performance.