Monday, January 19, 2009

Excellent Performances, Lost in Translation

Review of “Well”, The Apollo, Shaftesbury Avenue, London- until January 24th, 2009

I can see why this show was a hit on Broadway. Living in the States for two years, I learned that Americans are much more comfortable sharing their “issues” than we uptight Brits, in fact once they get started the sharing just keeps on coming. The latter part of this play is no exception to the rule.

At the opening of the piece Lisa, impressively played by Natalie Casey, tells us what the play is going to be about- “why some people get sick and then get well, and why other people stay sick”- like her mother. I’m not a fan of direct address but I push my irritation to one side as Casey’s engaging late twenties Jewish-American Lisa lays out her plan for the play she has written.

We soon learn that Lisa’s play is actually more about her relationship with her mother, played by the strikingly beautiful Sarah Miles, and ghosts of her childhood than perhaps even she herself realises.

The modest set successfully captures the liberal mother’s dwelling place and personality before Miles speaks a word. Custom made hospital beds are wheeled on by supporting actors as they enter for flashback scenes at Lisa’s allergy clinic.

The performances are universally strong. The supporting cast cope admirably with playing multi role and are at their most impressive in their more heightened castings. Unfortunately for them, some of the lines they have to deliver when their characters step out of the play within the play just don’t quite work in a British accent. The Jerry Springer-like cheesy honesty of the words leave us Brits shuffling uncomfortably in our seats.

“Well” is at its funniest and also its most poignant when it makes its point subtly. It does have some good points to make, but they are largely lost in self indulgence and heightened drama later in the play.

Casey’s performance is outstanding. Convincingly Jewish American in attitude, stance, mannerism and almost in accent, she definitely deserves a critical nod. God only knows how such a great actress got through the Hollyoaks casting net and on to the show.

While I was clearly not alone in finding the “Oh s**t, there’s an audience there” moments unbearable, this play is worth seeing if only for the excellent performances. It’s just a shame that once again, in London’s West End, not one of the cast manages a consistently good U.S. accent.

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