Sunday, 30 September 2018

REVIEW: The Other Place at the Park Theatre

There seem to be a great number of plays in London about mental health issues at the moment. Distance at Park 90 and Dust at Trafalgar Studios 2 deal with suicide. The Height of the storm opening soon at the Wyndham's is by the same author as The Father and both deal with dementia. Each while explaining the illnesses deal very dramatically with the impact of the sufferer’s condition on friends and family. It is a very worthwhile topic feeding the debate about how to support sufferers but also lends itself to dramatic treatment. 

The Other Place by Sharr White at Park 200 is the latest to tackle the subject and is the best of the bunch in exploring the symptoms and impact on the lives of the families of those suffering these illnesses in a totally engaging and dramatic piece.

Juliana is a witty intelligent neuroscientist who has patented a drug that mitigates the effects of dementia and now lectures and promotes it to groups of medical practitioners. Her husband Ian is an oncologist and therefore has some understanding both of her as a person and the science she promotes. The play brilliantly explores through a series of flashbacks and memories their life and the development of the illness. It first becomes apparent as she lectures for the umpteenth time on her topic to a conference in St Thomas in the Virgin Islands and she has what she calls an "episode".

Juliana is played with a convincing authority by Karen Archer. We are shocked, moved and sometimes amused but most of all we care about her situation as we see her mood swings and altered memories. She conveys the erratic behaviour and confused memories and we soon realise that she is an unreliable narrator of what has happened. Neil McCaul is Ian struggling to understand at first what is happening but then concerned and horrified by the impact the illness has on their relationship. His angst and despair at trying to manage and protect her is very clear. There is strong support from Eliza Collings as the other female characters including her estranged daughter Laurel and her young dementia consultant and from Rapinder Nagra as Richard, a man fifteen years older than Laurel and other male characters. 

There is plenty of black humour which is effectively used to highlight the impact of the illness as when Juliana tells Ian, she trusts him as a Doctor but not as a husband and later screams at him "Do I sound demented to you?”. 

The Other Place of the title is an old family home in Cape Cod where events took
place a decade earlier that have haunted the family ever since but also is a metaphor for the place her mind goes to in its "episodes", a parallel world of distorted memories and wishful thinking.

The simple setting and effective lighting by Jonathan Fenson and Paul Russell easily creates and differentiates the locations and time slips of her memories and allow the pace to be sustained. There is a powerful and dramatic mood swing signalled by the crashing waves at the Other Place when we start to discover the truth. It is more effectively written and staged than The Height of the Storm which arrives in the West End shortly on the same theme. The careful thoughtful direction by Claire Van Kempen makes this a powerful moving drama that brings understanding of the condition in a compact entertaining and moving eighty minutes.

Review by Nick Wayne

Rating: ★★★★★

Seat: Circle row A | Price of ticket: £32
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