Park Theatre, London – until 20 October 2018
Karen Archer plays Juliana, a scientist in pharmaceuticals who is trying to arrange a meeting with her estranged daughter and divorcing her philandering husband Ian (Neil McCaul). She also can’t understand why there is a woman in a yellow bikini in the audience at her presentation.
These are Juliana’s narratives, her reality, her history and memories. But her reality is also that after ‘an episode’ she is convinced she has brain cancer and won’t hear her doctors say otherwise. The Other Place is a play about dementia which reminded me a little of the 2014 film Still Alice for which Julianne Moore won an Oscar. Both show cognitive degeneration through the eyes of the sufferer.
Having Eliza Collings and Rupinder Nagra play characters from Juliana’s past and present adds to the sense of confusion, the blurring of recollections and heart’s desire. There is also a blurring between Juliana’s true self and what is a symptom of her illness; she is a sharply intelligent woman but also cutting in her manner.
It would be easy to dismiss her as an unreliable narrator but there is a truth in the mixture of flashbacks, conversations and encounters with doctors, family and strangers. There is also a personal truth in the pain, regret and guilt the narratives paint.
The unravelling of past events is where the emotional weight and dramatic tension lie leaving what is an unsentimental portrayal of dementia. Archer’s performance gives the impression of someone who has run off a cliff and is still running, her sarcasm and sharpness serving to emphasise her vulnerability in those moments she begins to realise she’s falling.