Friday, 1 February 2013

The Other Place, MTC, Jan 31, 2013 ****1/2

By Sharr White, Melbourne Theatre Company
Playhouse, Melbourne Arts Centre, Jan 31 until March 2, 2013
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: **** ½

Version of this review published in Herald Sun in print and online on Monday Feb 4. KH

 Catherine McClements & David Roberts: Photo by David Parker

Sharr White’s play, The Other Place, is a complex, poignant drama that challenges both actors and audience with its issues about early onset dementia.

Catherine McClements is exceptional as Juliana, a renowned geneticist whose research produced a drug to combat the brain degeneration of dementia.

McClements balances Juliana’s brittle, cruel and cool style with her irrational raging, her confusion and unwillingness to accept her own creeping illness that she presumes to be brain cancer.

In a series of cunningly interwoven scenes, we witness several phases of Juliana’s life: presenting her research to a medical conference, visiting her neurologist, arguing with her husband and dealing with her teenage-runaway daughter.

David Roberts is sympathetic and vulnerable as Ian, her beleaguered husband who struggles to accept and manage his clever wife’s erratic behaviour and rage.

Heidi Arena, playing multiple characters, is versatile, charming and credible, while David Whiteley is unobtrusive but essential in two smaller roles.

White’s writing is intensely intelligent and informed without being didactic or expository. His dialogue is startlingly real, complex and peppered with acerbic wit, and it captures the meandering paths and delusions of an ailing mind.

Director, Nadia Tass, makes the characters the focus of the production, keeping the stage design (Shaun Gurton) almost empty, and this starkness emphasises the hollowness of Juliana’s mind and her fading memories.

Huge back projections depict the technical aspects of the brain but also show us remote but personal images from Juliana’s past.

Be warned that there is some strong language and the themes may be confronting for those who are close to someone with dementia, but the challenge is worth it for a fine piece of theatre.

B Kate Herbert

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