Park Theatre, London – until 9 December 2017
Matthew Campling who’s written The Secondary Victim has been a practising psychotherapist for twenty years and there is clearly a volume of professional experience that underscores his play. Sadly however, in its premiere at the Park Theatre we find that his work, while brilliantly performed, comprises a script that’s possibly more dysfunctional than many of the clients Campling may have counselled over the decades.
The titular secondary victim here (with the play’s title being almost a spoiler in itself) is Ali, a middle-aged psychotherapist who finds herself the subject of a complaint alleging sexual misconduct. Susannah Doyle puts in a fine shift as Ali, struggling with her own personal emotional challenges. An equally strong performance comes from Michael Hanratty as the complainant Hugo. We learn that he is Ali’s former client and, by many years, her junior.
In what seems a lengthy two and a half hours, Campling takes us through not only Ali’s own marital strains with husband Victor (Gary Webster), but also her counselling of another client who’s a paedophile, along with glimpses into the professional relationship she maintains with her supervisor Marilyn. Not only that, we also meet Jonny, Hugo’s subsequent therapist, who in an implausible coincidence strikes up an affair with Marilyn whilst the pair are away at a psychotherapy conference.
The human condition is complex and Campling might, in a more carefully crafted work, have been correct to reference so many of society’s challenges in his text. Unfortunately, the sum total of his writing amounts to an unconvincing sequence of events that appear to have been clumsily thrown together solely to advance his dramatic narrative and which place Ali in a perfect storm of domestic and professional catastrophe that defies credibility.
Not only does Campling’s writing lack subtlety he does his profession a grave disservice with the ethical standards of his psychotherapists seeming too often to be lacking. Professional boundaries are continually blurred, with all three therapists showing scant regard for client confidentiality.
There is a lot more dramaturgy that’s needed here. As it stands, if Ali is the secondary victim then the audience, quite possibly, is the third.