Review – Well, Apollo Theatre

Wednesday 7 January 2009


With everyone in New Year mode, many thinking about their health and their body (not that anyone is thinking about Andrew’s body) it seemed appropriate that the Whingers’ first outing of 09 should be to Lisa Kron‘s play Well at the Apollo Theatre.

Well, actually Andrew had no idea why the Whingers went to see this. He had a vague recollection that they had concluded quite some time ago – possibly before it had even been written – that it was going to be awful* and that the Whingers were definitely going to give it a wider berth.

Their presence at the Apollo on Monday evening can only be put down to Phil’s determination to see “international screen icon” Sarah Miles on stage. Anyway…

Billed semi-ironically as a “theatrical exploration of illness and wellness”, Well is performed as a play exploring the relationship suffered between (oh dear) “avant-garde performance artist” Lisa Kron (who wrote the play and originally starred in it but here is played by Two Pints of Lager… star Natalie Casey) and her recently permanently ill mother, Anne (“international screen icon” Sarah Miles).

It is based on Kron’s actual life in Lansing, Michigan and it’s about allergies and racial prejudice. But more than that, it’s about Lisa Kron. Actually, that’s a lie. To be honest it’s not about allergies, racial prejudice, illness or wellness; it’s just about Lisa Kron.

Incidentally, when we said it was “performed as a play” we were for once not being unnecessarily convoluted and clumsy: the actors play actors playing their parts and Lisa addresses the audience directly and that’s where the problems more or less started for the Whingers.

“It’s not meant to be a well-made play, it’s a theatrical exploration,” stated Lisa. Well, to her credit she’s was at least half right. But why we were supposed to care at all about Ms Kron and about her “issues” was unclear to us. But Ms Kron obviously found them all deeply fascinating and worthy of sharing.

600x400-h30-wee-01-600x4001Anyway, while she shared, Phil reflected that Well seems an odd title for a play starring “international screen icon” Sarah Miles who famously drinks her own urine. But she certainly looks healthy enough even with her letter box mouth and batty hair do. But when Woman’s Wear magazine described her as “The Lady with the Truckdriver’s Mouth” it was apparently in reference to her predilection for profanities rather than any kind of aspersion about the freshness of her breath.

This had of course been a major topic of conversation before Well and the outcome was that despite the Whingers’ idle contemplation of a healthy New Year detox they have decided to eschew sampling their own body fluids (or anyone else’s) and will, for the time being, stick to the Merlot.

But if the credit crunch deepens and the Apollo doesn’t drop its astronomic bar prices, who knows what the Whingers will be forced to imbibe before the year is out?

Anyway, with all this talk fresh in his mind, Phil was quite alarmed when, in something approaching  a panto moment, Miss Miles (twice married to playwright Robert Bolt, lest you should be doubting her idiosyncrasy)  threw soft drinks into the audience. Only a fool would have drunk one.

Fortunately Andrew was fast asleep and was only woken when Phil pushed a piece of paper into his hand and gestured wildly and did that exaggerated lip movement which he believes helps people hear him more clearly when he is whispering.

Although Andrew couldn’t read it, the note said “I’m off to the pub” but fortunately Phil’s mime skills got the message across.

It took him another 10 minutes to effect his escape from this 1 hour 40 minute no interval extravaganza. Not an easy task when seated mid row and with no breaks in the “drama” on the stage.

But by this time Phil would have rather have drunk his own urine rather than endure any more of the dreadful self-conscious navel-gazing. In fact he’d rather have drunk “international screen icon” Sarah Miles’ urine and the rest of the audiences’

Somehow Well elicited reviews like “tears-rolling-down-the-face-funny…one of the plays of the year”, and “fantastic theatre…full of warmth and wisdom” (but that one did come from Time Out), and a transfer from the Trafalgar Studios.

But certainly  the night we were there the audience laughter at this so called “riotous comedy” was non-existent (we exaggerate: their were two American women who thought it was hilarious) and people began to follow Phil’s lead and the stalls began to empty.

“You didn’t all have to pay to get in here, did you? That’s terrible,” said Miss Miles to the audience at one point – this was the only moment when Ms Kane’s writing got anywhere near a knuckle and the audience greeted the remark with an audibly embarrassed silence.

the-fram-scale1So, in a nutshell, this was sadly not a good start to the year, and a shockingly early appearance on this blog of the Fram Scale.

When Andrew and Graham finally caught up with Phil in the pub they found him happily nursing a glass of wine and looking the picture of vitality while their own faces had the countenance of two people who have received very bad news from their doctors.

If Well was an animal it would have been put out of its misery ages ago. Judging by the meagre audience it’s already on a life support machine but we feel it would be kindest to switch it off immediately. Perhaps it should transfer to Switzerland. The symptoms are terminal. There is no hope for Well. Time to inform the relatives.

How this show earned a Tony Award nomination is beyond us. We feel sorry for Miles and Casey who did their best with the material.


* Which of course, it was. It’s not often that we agree with both Gardner (“Well? Not particularly after seeing Lisa Kron’s play about her relationship with her mother that for 100 navel-gazing minutes seems about to expire from an overdose of therapy-speak and terminal cuteness.”) and de Jongh (“to suffer this aggressively dull example of self-exposure by playwright Lisa Kron is like being held captive by an egotist who labours under the delusion that the conundrums of their private life will resonate with a wider public”). But we do.



There is not much in the way of merchandising for this show and Phil thinks it’s a shame. He has been putting some thought into it.

11 Responses to “Review – Well, Apollo Theatre”

  1. webcowgirl Says:

    Oh my God, this review about made my computer catch fire. Still, at least I didn’t have to SEE this show, which I wasn’t going to do anyway because it sounded not just depressing but dull. It’s great to have my fears proven right! I’ll reward myself instead with a trip to La Cage Aux Folles next week and give this one a skip. Then again, if it’s the only show in town … I’m sure there’s a lawn that needs mowing SOMEWHERE, even in sub-freezing temperatures.

  2. George Hunka Says:

    This is the funniest bloody thing I’ve read in years.

    Speaking for all of us in the United States: Sorry about that.


  3. Chris Says:

    I suspected this show might have been crap – thanks for the confirmation and saving us the seat prices!!

  4. I saw it at Trafalgar and remember some funny moments, but also remember how I wanted to get up and slap Natalie Casey’s character senseless while yelling at all of the characters to stfu and get off the stage. Free tickets are available if you know where to look, and this is another one of those shows where it’s tempting to go with intent to heckle (a fine Shakespearean tradition now lost to us.)

    Or I could, you know, see Into the Woods and not want to murder people.

  5. ” “fantastic theatre…full of warmth and wisdom” (but that one did come from Time Out)”

    Ouch. You’ll be pleased to note that my review for Time Out has brought the magazine back inline with sanity. I can only assume that the Trafalgar Studio incarnation was altogether more fun, although I confess I struggle to imagine how.

  6. Sir Andrew Lloyds Credit Crunch Says:

    Well, Remember This, Imagine This, Stuff Happens…

    Is it me or are plays’ titles becoming more conversational?

  7. Sir Andrew Lloyds Credit Crunch Says:

    Correction: Remember This should have been NeverForget: shome irony there, obvioushly…

  8. Shit. Have tickets for tonight. Fortunately only of the house-papering-for-paupers variety.

  9. Ian Shuttleworth Says:

    I got one really good guffaw out of the show: the spectacular unsubtlety of the curtain-call music. Just in case the preceding minutes hadn’t jackhammered into our skulls with all the delicacy of Kelvin Mackenzie that this was a personal-therapy piece of work, the cast then took their sheepish bows to the accompaniment of the jarringly goodtime funk of Sly and the Family Stone’s “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” [sic]. Magzine’s anxious, dislocated cover version would have been far more in keeping.

  10. JustNathan Says:

    I had enough turkey over the holidays. Thanks for saving me from accidentally ingesting more offcuts. Please keep the Fram scale going, as that and Afterlife were my most excruciating theatrical experiences of 2008.

  11. Tom Says:

    Sometimes when shows are premiered locally (Not Broadway) the reviewers look at it as a hometown product and are just too kind. Doesn’t happen just in the U.S. either. This appears to be exhibit A.

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