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Review: The Secondary Victim, at Park Theatre

Matthew Campling’s timely play that deals with claims of sexual misconduct and 'blame culture' was written in response to writer's own experience

23 November, 2017 — By Sipora Levy

Susannah Doyle and Gary Webster in The Secondary Victim. PHOTO: MATTHEW HOUSE

SET in the round of Park Theatre’s intimate studio space, we find Ali (Susannah Doyle), a respected psychotherapist, having to deal with a complaint of sexual misconduct from an ex-client.

The complaint is taken to a tribunal, where Ali and her accuser Hugo (Michael Hanratty) come face to face, each telling their side of the story. We also witness Ali’s sessions with a reluctant client, Teddy (Christopher Laishley), and her own with her supervisor, Marilyn (Natasha Bain).

When Hugo seeks therapy with Jonny (Matt Holt) we become aware of how manipulative Hugo is, possibly suffering from multiple personality disorder, while also planning to write a book to profit from his experiences.

This has been a year in which claims of sexual misconduct have regularly made the headlines. Matthew Campling’s play is therefore timely, although written in 2014, in response to a situation he found himself in as a psychotherapist. A former client began sending him emails alleging malpractice, though not of a sexual nature. Although Campling was able to clear his name, the experience was extremely distressing. It was then he heard the term “the secondary victim” as applied to therapists who find themselves at the receiving end of abuse allegations. Campling is ambitious in attempting to deal with several complex issues – the subjective nature of “truth”; personal and professional boundaries, as well as the fallout from living in a “blame culture”.

The play is uneven in its writing and performances. What works best are the face-to face sessions between therapist and client, and attempts to show the humanity of psychotherapists. But there is too much exposition regarding the mechanics of psychotherapy and performances too are mixed.

Doyle is sadly poignant as the tormented Ali and Hanratty is electrifying as Hugo, all charm and menace. However, Gary Webster as Ali’s husband Victor is too much of a brutal bully for their relationship to be believable.

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