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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Apollo Theatre     Winter 2008-2009

A playwright/performance artist attempts a 'theatrical experiment' juxtaposing her mother's experience as organiser of a racially integrated neighbourhood with her own triumph over a childhood of chronic allergies and illnesses.

But she has trouble controlling her random memories, her somewhat befuddled mother keeps interrupting because she's not telling the story correctly, and the actors rebel against the roles she has written for them.

And yet the resulting metatheatrical chaos somehow stumbles to the resolution she wouldn't have been able to achieve deliberately.

That is the premise of Lisa Kron's 90-minute play, seen earlier this year at the Trafalgar Studios and now playing a one-month run at the Apollo Theatre.

It is sometimes very funny, occasionally moving and thought-provoking, and if it is neither of these quite as frequently as it wants, it still offers a pithy evening more satisfying than many.

Part of Kron's premise, with both comic and serious ramifications, is that neither story, the social one or the medical one, is going to be told fully, in part because of the interruptions and in part because the onstage 'author' doesn't quite understand what play she really wants to write.

The wandering off into several different levels of reality forces her to face her real question, which is why her mother remained a semi-hypochondriac chronic invalid while she herself managed to get better.

It is not until literally the final seconds of the play that the integration story offers a resolution and, without giving too much away, I'll say that it has something to do with conquering prejudice.

Meanwhile, though, there is a great deal of fun in watching the play keep spinning out of the control of its putative creator, along with occasional moments that catch you up short and make you think or feel.

For me it was not so much the discovery that a childhood bully still haunts the narrator, but rather the reminder in a hospital scene that her fellow patients might well be hypochondriacs, but that doesn't mean that they're not actually unhappy and don't deeply wish they could be more normal.

Two things keep Well from total success. First, playwright Kron is a bit too conscious of how inventive her fourth-wall-breaking and reality-level-juggling is, and there's an off-putting air of 'Oh how clever I am' about things.

Second, director Eve Leigh has guided her stars Natalie Casey and Sarah Miles to characterisations that either don't quite gel or don't have quite the right effect.

Casey plays the performance artist as a mix of pretentious New York artist and airheaded Valley Girl, with more than a touch of Woody Allenish 'I'm more neurotic than you, so there,' and the pieces clash rather than fitting together.

Miles mixes a stereotypical addled grandma with the saccharine decayed-Southern-gentlewoman air of Estelle Parsons, and I can't believe that the end result is meant to be quite as creepy as it is.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of Well - Apollo Theatre 2008

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