Monday, September 15, 2008

Well at Trafalgar Studios

Right, been back in the UK a few days now and am slowly getting back into the swing of things, adjusting to the whole no-longer-on-holiday hoo-ha. I was hoping to have put together some words by now on the Belgrade/Bosnia experience but have been prevaricating and it has yet to happen.

I have, however – small drum roll – been to the theatre. My first excursion after landing was to see Well at Trafalgar Studios (in the little downstairs one). This is a play about ‘issues of illness and wellness’ by American playwright and performance artist Lisa Kron. When Kron was growing up her mother was often ill, fatigued to the point where she could hardly move, yet at the same time she managed to do considerable work in the community, to ‘heal’ a neighbourhood, as the play rather too neatly puts it. Kron was also ill herself, ill enough to warrant a stint in a hospital allergy unit and in order to better understand both her mother’s and her own experiences of illness, Kron has created a ‘multi-character theatrical experience.’ This is how the play terms itself. There’s a lot of talk like that as Natalie Casey, playing Kron, speaks directly to the audience throughout, describing her intentions and how she hopes the piece will work.

Sarah Miles , sitting in a battred red leather Lazy Boy chair swaddled in blankets and sporting a pair of huge fluffy bed socks, plays Kron’s mother, Ann. She is very entertaining in the role, forever interrupting proceedings and puncturing the monologue in order to offer drinks and Oreos to the audience and point out inaccuracies in the narrative. However while there are some gloriously funny moments (an anecdote about her childhood obsession with Laura Ingalls Wilder, chief among them), the production is hampered by some major problems, most significantly the fact that Kron played herself stateside while here she is played by Casey (who apparently is from Two Pints Of Lager and A Packet of Crisps, which I gather is a thing off the telly). She is very, very good as Kron, with solid, comic timing and a nice rapport with the audience, wholly inhabiting the role, but she is, still, an actress playing a part. So when the production loops ever in on itself and the other actors start breaking character and ditching their American accents, when they start questioning Kron and what she is trying to achieve, the fact that Casey is also playing a role and is not the author of the piece sits in the middle of the room like a big postmodern elephant.

The fact that the play also tiptoes around the nature of Kron’s own illness, doesn’t help either. Was she ever genuinely sick? It remains ambiguous – and while the writing acknowledges these ambiguities, that doesn’t make them any less problematic.

Despite these sizeable flaws, it is a warmly written and well performed piece, if, at times, a bit too cute and too, well, for want of a better term, American (specifically east coast introspective) but where it did work was in making me think about my attitude to illness and health. Having always enjoyed pretty good health, I think I do sometimes rather assume that people who haven’t (and I’m not talking about people with serious conditions, rather people who are more prone to sicknesses, colds, lurgies and the like, than I am) are somehow complicit in their unwellness. It’s a rather arrogant attitude and I’m not proud of it, and I shall endeavour not to tut and judge so much in future. Honest.

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