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The Secondary Victim (Susan Elkin reviews)

Campling Hicks Productions in association with Park Theatre.

Allegations of sexual misconduct, confidentiality, lies, damaged people – there’s so much of it about that Matthew Campling’s new play The Secondary Victim, directed by Matthew Gould, could hardly be more timely.

We’re in the world of counselling and therapy. Ali (Susannah Doyle) is a therapist. She is accused of sexual assault by her young client Hugo (Michael Hanratty) this becoming the titular secondary victim. We also see her counselling another client Teddy (Christopher Laishley) and we see Jonny (Matt Holt) counselling Hugo. The piece, almost entirely constructed on conversations, also shows Ali with her husband (Gary Webster) and her supervisor Marilyn (Natasha Bain). None of the issues are cut and dried and the play pulls several narrative surprises.

Hanratty’s Hugo is, often, all blond insolence and over confidence. He is variously manipulative, arrogant, articulate, childish, dangerous, edgy, capricious, truculent and confused. He is also, of course, at another level vulnerable and troubled with a past which has scarred him deeply. Hanratty’s stunning performance, especially at the Hearing when his weaknesses are highlighted, takes us right inside this complex, multilayered character.

There’s also excellent work from Susannah Doyle who finds all the right stillness and calm for Ali when she’s working but also gradually reveals a woman with plenty of problems of her own including the husband at home whose supportiveness comes on his own terms and isn’t always based on trust. The scene in which Ali confesses her worries to Natasha Bain’s Marilyn is dynamically pretty powerful. And Bain is spot on as the reassuring, understanding, realistic supervisor although we later learn that she too has, or acquires, issues in her own life. A lot of this play focuses on the tension between therapists at work and therapists in private. Bain, incidentally, also doubles, Portia-like, as Madam Chair for the disciplinary hearing, hair under a scarf, spectacles and an American accent. Here too she is both naturalistic and believable.

It’s an ingenious play characterised by impeccably written, very convincing dialogue between different pairs of characters. Campling worked for twenty years as a therapist (simply an alternative term for a counsellor, the play informs us) and his understanding of the processes, problems and dangers informs every word. Not that there’s anything dry about it. He has also created a thoughtful fictional scenario which works well as drama and holds the interest for most of the time which is quite an achievement. It is, however, self-indulgently long and would benefit from some pretty rigorous pruning. The Secondary Victim might actually work better as a 90 minute one act play should it be further developed in the future. And next time please spare us the pointless loud noise – traffic? Wind? Tinnitus? Metaphor for stress? – at each scene change.

First published by Sardines http://www.sardinesmagazine.co.uk/reviews/review.php?REVIEW-Park%20Theatre%20(professional)-The%20Secondary%20Victim&reviewsID=3043

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Susan Elkin
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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