This thriller, by American Garner McKay, recalled those Jacobean dramas I studied when I was at Goldsmiths: 'The White Devil', 'The Duchess of Malfi' and 'The Revenger's Tragedy. Horrors piled on horrors as unspeakable acts of violence vied to turn the audience into gibbering wrecks. They usually involved actors like Alan Howard and Helen Mirren, taking their clothes off and shouting a lot.
The superb set for 'Toyer' at the tiny Arts Theatre is brutish-modern, establishing an unsettling mood from the start. It looks like an executive's office - the sharp-angles of black chrome-framed furniture framed by smokey walls, behind which spot-lit figures appear without warning.
LA psychiatrist Maude, played by angular Alice Krige, enters dressed for tennis, because this is her home, but what follows is no thirties house-party comedy, although it sets the ironic tone . Her answer phone relays a message from a colleague, concerned about her state of mind - they've just examined the twelfth victim of a stalker who drugs, rapes and then mutilates his victims. Shortly after this, a young man raps on the glass. It's Peter, played by boyishly charming Al Weaver, a security guard who helped start her car after the tennis match. He wants to use the phone.
'Maude, I love that name', he says, the prelude to many unctuously insincere and/or ambiguous remarks. Her psychopathology training didn't include Tennyson, so she won't get the allusion, but she can't have had that particular compliment paid so often. For Peter, it's the first of many verbal ambiguities that keep the atmosphere electric.
Over the next hour and a half the audience empathise with the strung-out Maude whilst wondering how she can be so naive. Despite assuring Peters she's 'old enough be your mother', she has the toned body of Madonna, and the reflexes of a kick-boxer. Which is just as well
I won't give the game away about the outcome of what turns into a battle of wills and the ability to deceive in this sophisticated yet tacky drama. As for whether Maude falls for his charms, all I'll say is prepare yourself to look away when they move into the bedroom - those walls are like the ones they have in police station interview rooms. The denouement is as chilling and as not-quite-credible as what has gone before
All it lacked was the slow-motion 'dumb play' featured in Jacobean drama, and the strobe lighting beloved of seventies directors to transport me back in time. As I remember, we students learned that the taste for graphic horror and sex in the Jacobean era reflected a sick society. So perhaps feeling slightly queasy when I came out is a good sign.
Tennyson's poem on record (click on the Webster recording to the left of the bearded poet):