Park Theatre (venue)
24 September 2018 (released)
30 September 2018
Premiered on Broadway in 2011, where it won a Tony Award, ‘The Other Place’ comes to the UK for the first time, directed by Claire van Kampen with Karen Archer taking the lead. What is most powerful about ‘Sharr White’s four hander is that we see the onset of dementia from the perspective of Juliana, a high-powered women in her early sixties who travels the world lecturing on neurology. The loss of such an obviously great mind heightens the fall and her confusion and rage at her situation are both very ordinary and the stuff of tragedy.
It’s a demanding role, ninety minutes where Juliana barely leaves the stage, leading us through her past and present, memories and delusions. Archer captures the fragility of one used to being utterly in control, raging against her diagnosis and any challenge to her authority. Her husband Ian, played by Neil McCaul is the straight guy whose perception rarely falters, but he too is terrified and frustrated by his wife, only gradually learning to take on the caring role she increasingly requires. Eliza Collins and Rupinder Nagra play the rest of the characters with conviction. Collins injects a bright dose of dry humour as the unsuspecting stranger who has to deal with Juliana when she lets herself into ‘the Other Place’ unaware that they sold the house decades before.
White’s play is particularly interesting on the relationship between dementia and memories of a traumatic past. (Not least because both trauma and dementia often lead to a distorted or total loss of memory.) As Juliana’s disease takes away her present narrative, increasingly confusing words, people and places, it locks onto an early traumatic experience almost obsessively. It’s as if the mind is desperately trying to make sense of its greatest trauma whilst the rest of the known world slips away. For dramatic purposes this means we see Juliana’s condition deteriorate at the same time as we begin to piece together her traumatic history. Not only does this make the drama very watchable, in affect, it is her increasingly unreliable narrative that leads us to a deeper understanding of her life. As White says, ‘to me, this play isn’t about dementia…It’s about the idea that an affliction can also unwittingly be a doorway to something one has yearned for.’
Jonathan Fensom's wood panelled stage feels almost too cool at first, giving the actors almost nothing to play with, but it’s simplicity holds a secret as it turns with extraordinary elegance into ‘The other place’ – representing at once a real holiday home they used to own and the imaginary place where Juliana’s mind is compelled to return. It is the tension between these two places that van Kampen’s production seeks to understand. And a reminder of just how easy it is for anyone of us to slip between the two.