The Other Place
The Other Place – Park Theatre
There can be few people whose lives have not been touched by the effects of a friend or family member suffering from dementia and for some that would include the impact of early onset symptoms. With that knowledge, it is also unlikely that many people would choose to put themselves through the potential trauma of a play examining the subject. They would however be richly rewarded by the exceptional writing of Sharr White and performances in The Other Place.
Unlikely as it might seem, along with the undeniably tragic elements of this play, there are also many genuinely funny moments to be enjoyed. The central character of the piece is Julianna, superbly presented by Karen Archer, clearly exceptionally smart and with an extremely dry sense of humour in the face of deteriorating mental capacity. The irony is that she is a research scientist and patent holder of a form of medication with the potential to treat the symptoms of dementia. Sharr White ingeniously uses this role to allow Julianna to give a presentation to an audience of medical professionals, with simultaneous vocalisation of an inner monologue in which she comments on her situation and observations related to the audience. It is never quite clear how much of this internal voice becomes an element of her talk to the professionals and how much is related to own struggle to make sense of her situation, to which only we the audience is party.
With a story told in part through flash back, we learn of the impact of Julianna’s condition on her oncologist husband Ian who has unknowingly been dealing with elements of her dementia for a considerable length of time before its effects become all too apparent and action must be taken. In many ways, the journey taken by loved ones is as difficult as the sufferer and this was very much captured in the writing and by the performance of Neil McCaul, whose care, sympathy and coping mechanisms are stretched to the limit. The complication is that while there may be some elements of truth in Julianna’s flashbacks, the degree to which these are fabrications and re-imaginations is unclear. However this is Julianna’s perception of reality.
Design by Jonathon Fensom strips the action back to the barest minimum, with a single chair the only piece of furniture on a beige carpet set against plain floor to ceiling wooden strips. Eliza Collings inhabits a number of roles which would perhaps reveal too much to describe but bringing a combination of humour, understanding and versatility, with a similar level of support from Rupinder Nagra.
Huge congratulations to director Claire van Kampen on capturing the essence of an exceptional script with whip sharp humour, understanding of an extremely difficult topic and delivered at such a pace that there was never any danger of wallowing in the underlying tragedy. Highly recommended.
Review by Robin Kelly
The Other Place is on until 20th October at Park Theatre. For tickets and more info about the show visit their website.