The Other Place
Reviewed – 24th September 2018
“the moderate dynamics throughout jar with the harrowing threads of the story”
Neurologist, Juliana Smithton, is successful and self-assured but while presenting her recent work – treatment for dementia – to a group of specialists, she becomes distracted. Karen Archer’s strong performance portrays a Juliana fighting to deny the signs of illness and come to an acceptance of the past. Scratching the surface, we discover a vulnerability disguised as assertiveness and then, as the layers peel away, we begin to understand her fragility. ‘The Other Place’ is not just about dementia. It also depicts what, when and how we remember and the relationships it affects.
Sharr White’s writing is cleverly structured to follow Juliana’s state of mind from confusion to calm. The fragmentary scenes of the first part which mirror her illusion, disillusion and reality lead to her refuge in ‘the other place’, her childhood house, where she feels secure among her memories. The make-up of the story, however, is less well shaped. Dementia and its life-changing consequences for everyone involved is already a distressing situation. Adding a tortuous family tragedy to illustrate the entanglement of her thoughts undermines the poignancy; the loose ends ensuing from that part of the story leave us curious as to the uncharacteristic behaviour of the parents towards their daughter. Heavy-handed humour comes across as deliberate light relief rather than naturally through personality and the whole play wraps up just a little too neatly.
In contrast to Juliana’s hostile accusations and frustrated forgetfulness, Neil McCaul, as Ian, gives us some moving moments as a husband trying to cope with the wife he loves and whose familiarity is disappearing, though his behaviour towards her is, at times, oddly blasé. In supporting roles Eliza Collings draws three well-defined characters who challenge Juliana in different ways and Rupinda Nagra has a reassuring presence on stage in contrast to the surrounding disquiet. Claire van Kampen astutely directs this experienced cast with a focus on Juliana’s puzzle of past and present but the moderate dynamics throughout jar with the harrowing threads of the story and the interpretation feels underplayed in relation to the language of the script.
The simplicity of the stylish wooden set (Jonathan Fensom) is perfect for the comings and goings of the action and as a backdrop for Paul Russell’s classy lighting design. Beautifully inventive and atmospheric, it works in conjunction with the creativity of the sound (John Leonard) to paint the scenes. With a strong technical flair alongside confident performances, touches of drama and humour, food for thought and an ending full of hope, ‘The Other Place’ brings to the Park Theatre, a piece of good, intellectual entertainment.
Reviewed by Joanna Hetherington
Photography by Mark Douet
The Other Place
Park Theatre until 20th October
Reviewed this year at the Park Theatre