North of Eight is Melbourne's new theatre company on the block and they return this month with their second show of their inaugural season, Gardner McKay's Toyer. The Australian premiere of this psychological thriller takes place over roughly 24 hours with a stranger entering a woman's life at a time when the city is being terrorised by a man who rapes his victims before lobotomising them.
Maude (Faran Martin) is a clinical psychiatrist who lives alone in her LA home in the hills and has recently drawn the attention of an unknown voyeur who watches her in the evenings. Peter (Kashmir Sinnamon) is a stranger who has just repaired Maude's car and needs to use her phone to call his friend. With the "toyer" on the loose, so-called because he toys with his victims before he attacks, it might not be the safest option to let Peter inside, but he's charming and friendly and makes Maude laugh, so should the risk outweigh the temptation?
Originally published in the early 90s, this play is beginning to show its age, and what might have constituted suspenseful and dramatic material originally now results in frustration and disbelief at how the narrative progresses and the decisions the characters make. Coming in at just over two hours, the story becomes repetitive especially with the initial game of 'will he or won't he leave?', and 'is he or isn't he the toyer?' quickly wearing thin. There are some preposterous plot twists that occur whereupon by the time the truth is revealed, there is very little surprise or interest to be had, and nor do we care what the fate of these characters will be.
While there is some thoughtful direction by Sarah Hallam that allows the actors time to fully comprehend the circumstances their characters find themselves in, there are moments when Martin seems too theatrical and the emotions that her character expresses feel somewhat forced. Maude never feels genuine in her terror, the fault of which lies mainly with her character development in the story. However, there are instances when Sinnamon brings darker human elements to the surface with Peter that is able to ignite some interest from the audience - yet even this achievement can only be maintained for so long before it starts to become predictable.
It really feels like McKay was so determined to create a thriller with Toyer that he ignored plot
holes and character development that could have kept his protagonists interesting and intriguing. Unfortunately the performances suffer because of this and there really is very little suspense to be felt. As a new theatre company, it would be great to see North of Eight performing more inspiring and contemporary works rather than this decades-old play that demands a lot from its audience with very little pay-off.
Venue: The Courthouse Hotel 86 Errol St, North Melbourne.
Season: Until 13 May | Tue – Sat 8pm
Tickets: $28 Full | $22 Conc
Bookings: North of Eight
*Original review appeared on Theatre Press on 8 May 2017.