Writer: Sharr White
Director: Claire van Kampen
Reviewer: Stephen Bates
In American writer Sharr White’s 80-minute one-act play, the other place is a weekend retreat. It is also a dark area of the mind in which memories hide, delusions lurk and old mysteries resolve themselves without recourse to reason.
Juliana is 61, a medical practitioner who is now working in marketing for a drugs company. Played by Karen Archer, she is sarcastic and abrasive, speaking to an audience of doctors with confidence and authority. It is only when the outer layers of her persona are peeled away that we realise that her inner world is collapsing and that there is an alternative reality infiltrating interactions that we witness with her husband. We learn that Juliana is suffering from the onset of dementia.
Jonathan Fensom’s set is austere and functional, like a lecture theatre, with only one plain chair on the stage. It signifies the clinical environment that Juliana and her oncologist husband Ian (Neil McCaul) inhabit. It takes careful, methodical writing and superb acting to bring a thaw into these lives and reveal the emotional anguish that both of the characters are suffering. Eliza Collings works hard and to excellent effect in three prominent supporting roles
Juliana is convinced that Ian is having an affair with a work colleague and is preparing for a divorce. She is oblivious to his denials. In the background, there lies an unsolved mystery relating to the disappearance, at the weekend retreat 10 years earlier, of the couple’s young daughter. Juliana reports that she is receiving telephone calls from her and news of their son-in-law and grandchildren, but Ian remains indifferent. The marital disharmony at first seem baffling until we are allowed to delve deeper into the delusions brought about by Juliana’s illness.
White’s play, getting its UK premiere here, tells its story in non-linear form. Facts emerge in jumbled order, perhaps as they exist in Juliana’s brain, and we are asked to piece them together, discarding segments that do not fit, to complete the jigsaw. It is an intriguing process, but Claire van Kempen’s uncluttered production gives it clarity and the production as a whole offers a fascinating perspective on an all-too-common human condition.
Runs until 20 October 2018 | Image: Mark Douet