Review: The Other Place at the Park Theatre
Written for Everything Theatre
I was pleasantly surprised by my very first outing to the Park Theatre for the UK premiere of The Other Place, directed by Claire van Kampen. The Park Theatre is one of those venues I always intended to get to some time, and then never did, until last night. Modern, comfortable, and only a couple minutes’ walk from Finsbury Park station, I would definitely recommend paying it a visit. (Also, they have pizza. Why don’t more theatres do pizza? It’s two of my favourite things in the world, combined.)
The Other Place focuses on Juliana Smithton, a high-flying neurologist whose life starts to unravel when she is diagnosed with dementia. Past and present, fiction and fact quickly become entangled as the audience tries to make sense of the contradictory scenes in front of us. Are Juliana’s phone calls with her estranged daughter really happening? Is her husband Ian about to divorce her, or not?
The Other Place is presented as a psychological thriller, and although it’s certainly slick enough to belong to the genre, I did not find it especially thrilling. A lot of the suspense hangs on the idea of the audience not knowing what’s going on with Juliana, even though it’s fairly obvious from early on in the play that she has some form of dementia or other cognitive dissonance. When we are presented with the diagnosis, about two thirds of the way in, it doesn’t come as the big twist that playwright Sharr White presumably had in mind. Since it’s never in doubt that Juliana is the one getting confused, while everyone around her has got their memories neatly lined up in the correct order, the play doesn’t work as a nuanced exploration of the slippery nature of the human mind either. (If, like me, you can’t read the words ‘memory’ and ‘psychological thriller’ in the same blurb without getting your hopes up for the stage version of Memento… don’t.)
What White has written, however, is a fast-paced piece that sensitively shows Juliana’s anger and bewilderment at a world that doesn’t seem to play by the rules anymore. The tremendous lead role is filled by Karen Archer, who effortlessly draws the audience in to join her on the rollercoaster ride through Juliana’s head. Eliza Collings, who embodies a variety of female characters, is excellent throughout, but particularly shines in a moving scene near the end where she finds a sad and confused Juliana in her house, which once belonged to the latter.
The sparse set, the biting humour, fast-paced dialogue and the 80-minute running time together make this a surprisingly slick show, which seems like a strange thing to say about a play about dementia. Nevertheless, The Other Place somehow manages to be both sensitive and entertaining, so it certainly works.
The Other Place is running at the Park Theatre until 20 October