In Sharr White’s The Other Place, Juliana Smithton (Karen Archer) tells the story of her life: she loves spending time with her grandchildren, is in the middle of a divorce, and has just been diagnosed with brain cancer. Except, none of this is true: her grandchildren do not exist but her marriage still very much does. She has early onset dementia.
Claire van Kampen’s production occasionally feels overly concerned with playing this material for laughs but there is bravery in it too. The pared-back staging relies heavily on the strength of the actors’ performances and Archer – who never leaves the stage – carries it well.
The writing is also compelling; it is more usual to learn of about the lives of those with cognitive dysfunction through the eyes of their friends and family. White tells the story from Juliana’s point of view – it’s an inspired choice.
Jonathan Fensom’s set design is an extension of Juliana’s self. The backdrop is her brain; it houses a number of carefully concealed doors. With each one that opens a new memory is revealed. Meanwhile, the plush cream-coloured carpet of her home is the sort of carpet owned by a person who has money and makes good decisions with it – reflective of Juliana’s successful career as a neurologist.
Though the play contains some excellent moments – the sassy doctor played by Eliza Collings is particularly satisfying – the direction is overly cautious, the writing is sometimes timid, and at just 80 minutes, there isn’t enough time to really get to know the characters.