The Other Place (Theatre Works) – theatre review

If you don’t know the names Betty Burstall and Buzz Goodbody, I’m not sure you’ll be all that much wiser after seeing the play The Other Place.

In Carlton in 1967 schoolteacher Burstall begins sketching plans for what will eventually become the iconic La Mama Theatre, the pre-eminent, independent home of new, experimental unseen Australian work. Eight years later in Stratford-upon-Avon, politically charged director Goodbody – founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s The Other Place, which champions new, experimental, unseen theatre – is about to begin rehearsing Hamlet.

Photo: Sarah Walker

Burstall’s colourful life ended at the age of 87 in 2013. Goodbody committed suicide in 1975, shortly after her production of Hamlet opened. Both were energetic, bold and fearless artists. They had gumption and passion and didn’t do things by the book. They broke down barriers. The Other Place, by Christopher Bryant, pays homage to their legacy through a prologue, three acts and an epilogue, centred around an imagined meeting of the pair.

It unfolds through a series of vignettes, some of which I couldn’t really make sense of, performed by five actors. I felt that a prior knowledge of the pair would have been desirable. The play is actually a meld of fact and fiction, so there are snapshots of what Burstall and Goodbody did, but I struggled to formulate a cohesive picture.

You could argue that The Other Place has artistic flair and a decidedly arthouse sensibility, which may appeal to some, but will turn others off. It is very much a collaborative effort between the performers – Susie Sparkes, Ravenna Bouckaert, Kristina Benton, Erin Pattison and Vivian Nguyen. One thing that was emphasised was Burstall’s libertine lifestyle, while the play tried to unpick why Goodbody took her own life.

Photo: Sarah Walker

Overall, I can’t say I warmed to The Other Place, which I found a particularly long sit at 90 minutes without interval. I felt it definitely needed tightening. I wasn’t all that involved in or engaged by what was taking place in front of me. I would have been far happier to have learned more about the life and times of Burstall and Goodbody – clearly highly talented trailblazers – through a traditional linear narrative thread.

Mind you, “traditional” and “conservative” are hardly words I’d use to describe either of them and the influence they had. Directed by Jessica Dick, The Other Place is playing at Theatre Works in St Kilda until 8 September 2019.

Alex First

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