Theatre Review - The Other Place by Sharr White - Theatre by the Lake
- Credit: Photo by Mark Douet
The last production to come to Keswick’s Theatre by the Lake (TBTL) before the Christmas season is a powerful, thought-provoking story which presents dementia and which seeks to present the condition from the point of view of the sufferer rather than supporters.
Juliana (Karen Archer) is an intelligent, confident older woman seemingly at the height of her powers until an ‘episode’ brings her world crashing down. We are taken on a ride which blurs reality with fiction as we unravel her life while she watches her mind do the same.
It’s difficult to talk of the details of the production, superbly directed by Claire van Kampen, without giving spoilers but suffice to say, if you have gone through the trauma of supporting someone with dementia then it is likely you’re going to deeply empathise with the characters presented here. Sharr White states that he wanted to tell the story ‘from the perspective of the afflicted’ rather than give the usual ‘condescending’ side of the loved ones and, to an extent, he succeeds. Juliana is our focus from beginning to end and she is neither romanticised as the loving wife and mother nor stereotyped into a kind of comic character. She’s not nice, frankly, and it takes time to work out how much that is the real person and how much is protein structures throttling her brain.
There is, of course, a subplot which is the vehicle for this exploration. If there is a weakness it is here. This path is never really brought to a conclusion (one could argue this makes it true to life) and the danger is that it threatens to derail the true aim of the play, namely to present the insidious nature of the condition. Also - perhaps not a weakness but certainly something to consider - the main character is in the early stages of dementia. It would be difficult to imagine presenting things from her perspective if it were not so.
Strangely, I didn’t find myself moved emotionally by the production despite excellent performances from all four actors who managed to command the main stage with ease for what was, in essence, an intimate studio theatre production. But then, I’ve not gone through the pain of looking after a loved one with dementia. I was told afterwards by friends who have, or who work with dementia patients, that it was very accurate. I did find the production richly powerful and I came away pondering deeply about the nature of our minds and how society deals (or fails to deal) with dementia. There were times when I wanted to slap the husband, Ian (played by Neil McCaul), and tell him to get a grip. But then I wondered just how long I could go on for in his shoes and suspect he is actually the better man. There’s no doubt dementia is hard to untangle.
Short, sharp, yet sensitive about the issue, TBTL have produced something which I think will be special for any who have been affected by loved ones with the condition and profoundly unsettling for those of us who haven’t. Either way, it’s worth catching this before the play is gone and becomes nothing more than a memory.
‘The Other Place’ plays in Theatre by the Lake’s Main House from 1 to 10 November. For more information and to book tickets visit www.theatrebythelake.com or call the Box Office on 017687 74411.