The Well - Review

The Well, by local writer Jonathan Brown, weaves fact with fiction telling of the digging the 900 foot Woodingdean Well a task that took four years. It also relates Jack Tompkins’ search for the truth about his mother who died when he was a child – a search that uncovers corruption and lechery when he becomes obsessed with, Bella, a local prostitute.

The production, also directed by Brown, provided a powerful example of physical theatre with the cast called upon to play not only the characters but also the scenery and props. This they achieved with some spectacular imagery, aided by creative lighting. Amongst the many excellent images created, the flooding of the well and the subsequent drowning sequence were particularly stunning. The walls of the well, bedroom furniture and even a pub bar where created by the moulding of the actors’ bodies. All of this played on a bare stage in front an edifice made up of scaffolding and ladders that provided multi-level acting areas. Accordingly the audience had a part to play by using its imagination and accepting the production style of more than one person playing the same character. This device needed to be tightened up at times to ensure an even transition. Any fraction of a second lapse broke the rhythm.

The hardworking cast, Ali McKenzie-Wilcox, Warren Saunders, Paddy O’Keefe, Julie Monckton, Mark Green, Leanne McKenzie and Jonathan Brown – invidious to single out any particular performances - demonstrated well the requirements of multi-role acting skills with the exhausting physical demands placed upon them. The production was enhanced by the acapella singers, Jo Mortimer, Christine Heaton and Ross Adamson, whose rendering of the folk style songs underlined and punctuated the action.

But there was a fault with the script and the production – it was far too long and verbose. Brown, in addition to writing, directing also performed, was overstretched and failed to appreciate this. It needed a detached view to stop the pudding being over-egged. Often a good image was created and then its effectiveness weakened by too many words or repetitive action. For example the climb out of the flooded well – visually stunning- suffered by the over long litany of objects floating past. Likewise the action in the dream sequence of crawling out from under a landfall was repeated too many times – the scene lost its initial impact.

These reservations apart there was much to enjoy and be impressed with – particularly the actors and the quality of their performances.

A point for future consideration by Front of House- the lack of an announcement in the programme or in the studio regarding an interval caused some confusion. The actors walked off and the audience, thinking it was the end of the play as it could have been, waited for their return to take bows. After a fair time the penny dropped and people drifted out.

Barrie Jerram
6 March 2011