The Secondary Victim
Reviewed – 15th November 2017
“the realist minims of the performances are truly cinematic in their detail”
For anyone with experience of therapy, The Park Theatre’s ‘The Secondary Victim’ very much mimics its own context; the trials and tribulations of the one-to-one session. The piece is a thought-provoking and honest insight into the core of human relationships; exploring the similarities and differences between personal and professional relationships, the role of therapist and client and the blurring of boundaries. These issues are approached with sensitivity and essentialism, cutting to the core of our relationships with Matthew Gould’s employment of a simple and engaging aesthetic and theatrical structure. This incredible and detailed focus sometimes feels at odds with sporadically philosophical sections that feel less relevant, pushing its run time to a rather impressive 160 minutes and recommending, perhaps, a streamlining of the current script.
The Secondary Victim explores the voids in human relationships; the professional therapeutic relationship in which one pays for personal support, the breakdown of a personal relationship in which support is non-existent. Telling the story of Ally, a therapist accused of sexual misconduct by a former client, the piece follows a series of duologues between a range of characters. This structure lends itself well to a piece largely centred around therapist-client relationships. However, by relying on this format almost entirely, the conversations have a tendency to fall into catechismic exposition; a conceit that could be easily resolved with some careful editing. In our current context of the Weinstein accusations, this piece draws attention to the difficulties of professional relationships and the wavering boundaries that exist within them, giving a well-timed and bold new perspective on the fallibility of emotional and professional connection.
Staging the piece in the round largely serves well to draw the audience into the action as observers, save some unavoidable occasional sightline issues. With four chairs positioned at the corners of the space, the audience is invited into the space as an objective part of the scenery, positioned as one of the four walls. The realist minims of the performances are truly cinematic in their detail, particularly so in the work of Hugo (Michael Hanratty) and Ali (Susannah Doyle). The subtlety of expression employed by Doyle brings a sense of alignment with her character, provoking both our sympathy and our interest in the complexities of her subtext and her emotional life. Hanratty similarly gives an incredibly expressive performance as Hugo; as the antagonist of the piece, he hints to a layered vulnerability beneath the bitter two-dimensional front he has been scripted.
In a piece about the gaps between relationships, The Secondary Victim deconstructs our ethical panopticon with care and conviction, though its thoughtfulness sometimes leads the narrative more into the realms of academic philosophical debate rather than focusing on the narrative microcosm. With a cut to these less relevant sections and thus a focusing of the material, the characters complexity would have more room to exist on-stage. In its current state, the piece uses audience as therapist, presenting us with the external reality through a host of information and encouraging us to unpick the characters ourselves. Their complexity fosters understanding, rather than judgement, bringing a small piece of therapeutic congruency to our relationship with the piece.
Reviewed by Tasmine Airey
Photography by Matthew House
THE SECONDARY VICTIM
is at The Park Theatre until 9th December