Pros: A tremendous lead performance by Karen Archer.
Cons: Although billed as a psychological thriller, it’s neither surprising nor subtle enough to properly fit that bill.
The Park Theatre is modern, comfortable, and only a couple minutes’ walk from Finsbury Park station. 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. Are Juliana’s phone calls with her estranged daughter really happening? Is her husband Ian really about to divorce her?
The Other Place is presented as a psychological thriller, and although it’s certainly slick enough to belong to the genre, it isn’t 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 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.
Author: Sharr White
Directed by: Claire van Kampen
Produced by: Rachael Williams
Box Office: 020 7870 6876
Booking Link: https://www.parktheatre.co.uk/whats-on/the-other-place
Booking Until: 20 October 2018