With a cast that includes international film and TV star Kate Walsh, new kid on the block Fremantle Theatre Company has made an impressive debut, writes David Zampatti.
The Other Place, Fremantle Theatre Company ·
Victoria Hall, 21 October, 2020 ·
In Sharr White’s taut psychological chiller, The Other Place, a successful, highly-strung woman comes apart as the facts of her life unravel into delusion and fantasy.
It has been staged successfully on both American coasts since its 2011 debut, and by the Melbourne Theatre Company two years later. This silver-lining production at the Victoria Hall marks an auspicious beginning for the Fremantle Theatre Company.
For this much is owed to the involvement of the American film, television and stage star Kate Walsh, who has put her COVID-enforced sabbatical in Perth to very good use.
Her presence is the obvious explanation for the show’s all-but-sold-out season (at far from a bargain-basement ticket price), but that’s by no means the only reason it deserves that box office success.
Because White’s play, all the performances and its production values are very, very good.
Juliana Smithton (Walsh) is an entrepreneurial research scientist presenting her latest patented product at a pharmaceutical conference at a Caribbean island resort. She’s sharp, dressed-for-success, witty and a little cruel. She’s also seeing things.
It’s the things she sees, and her search for the reason for them, that drives the play deeper into her psychosis. She’s smart enough to recognise it – although she may be deluded by its manifestations – but struggles to come to terms with its cause.
She wants it to be a brain tumour, despite that possibility being forcefully debunked by her oncologist husband Ian (Dalip Sondhi) and the psychologist, Dr Teller (Lucy Kate Westbrook), he sends her to (and with whom, Juliana insists, despite no evidence, he is having one of the affairs she accuses him of).
She might dismiss Dr Teller’s cognitive assessment test, but she can’t deny that things are not well with her.
The story darkens when Juliana is contacted by her daughter Laurel (Westbrook) who disappeared from their home ten years ago. We see Laurel and her husband Richard who, Juliana believes, absconded with her, we hear her children laughing and crying in the background.
But are we in the real world, or are we in Juliana’s head?
That’s enough of the story for now, other than to say that it ends in “the other place”, the family’s Cape Cod summer house, where the real world and Juliana’s world collide and, perhaps, resolve.
FTC’s artistic director Renato Fabretti has capitalised on Ms Walsh’s serendipitous availability by assembling a top-notch team for the production.
Sondhi is handsome and measured as Juliana’s husband, and Westbrook is outstanding in her three roles (the last of which is in spoiler alert quarantine, but is a show-stopper). Mararo Wangai takes care of some minor appearances – in particular Richard – with charismatic efficiency.
Director Chris Edmund brings his great skill and long experience to the adroit management of what could be fragile material, and the designer Lawrie Cullen-Tait’s shrewd design, a wooden jetty with a sinister undertow of coiled rope, makes a perfect traverse stage. Matt Marshall’s lighting and Steve McDall and Dave Richardson’s sound designs are subtle and seamless.
And how wonderful it is to sit in a proper full house in a proper theatre watching a proper play again! In large part that’s because it feels like the vaccine for this gruesome bastard of a year has arrived, but also because there is an audience hungry for narrative, dialogue and character – and that, for one reason or another, was in short supply here even before the pestilence arrived.
You might find it hard to get a ticket for this season – and that’s a good thing. But I urge you to keep an eye out for what FTC comes up with next, because I suspect something other than Little Creatures is brewing down at the port.
Pictured top are Dalip Sondhi and Kate Walsh. Photo: Court McAllister
Like what you're reading? Support Seesaw.