Pros: Bright enthusiastic performers bursting with energy.
Cons: The excellent staging fails to hide how depressing the subject matter really is.
Once again, the London theatre scene has surprised me with a hidden gem. The New Diorama Theatre is secreted in the ultra-modern Regent’s Place development in Euston. Mingling with glass-fronted offices and shops, it is the epitome of modern urban architecture. From the outside it looks no more than a cosy coffee bar, but it houses a surprisingly large auditorium and performance area. The compact set is populated by wooden hexagons and gives no clue as to the story about to unfold. Nevertheless, the props become a strong physical symbol in Getting Better Slowly, the story of Adam Pownall’s battle with Guillain-Barré Syndrome. GBS is a rare, incurable disorder in which the immune system attacks the nervous system. There is no known cause and it can be fatal.
You may be wondering how such a debilitating illness can be presented in a dramatic context and manage to be informative, entertaining and, at times, very funny. The excellent Adam Pownall and Kitty Randle pull it off with relative ease, using a mix of dance, mime and dialogue. Although I had trouble shaking off the image of Adam going through the various stages of the illness, the tenor of the show was always a positive one, brimming with determination and hope. Adam’s first-hand experience with the disorder, and his knowledge of its physical and emotional impact on himself and everyone around him, imbued the play with a thick layer of integrity. Kitty Randle proved to be something of a sounding board for Adam, playing friends and family in reported conversations and, perhaps most importantly, speaking as Adam’s conscience and even as the illness itself. This was a smart choice, giving the condition a visible presence and allowing Adam to illustrate his coping strategy. The stage props initially appeared to be purely decorative, but as the play progressed they seemed to physically represent periods when Adam was trapped, restricted or immobile — again, a novel way to present the story.
Staging a play dealing with life-threatening conditions is a massive risk, particularly when audiences generally want something pitched a safe distance away from reality. This play overcomes the sobriety of its subject matter with a defiantly positive tone, a smattering of humour and a happy ending. A modern 21st century play — it will do for me.
Director: Tilly Branson
Author: Nick Wood
Creative Producer: Adam Pownall
Music: Poetical Machines, Ltd.
Booking Until: 25 February 2017
Box Office: 0152 287 3891
Booking Link: http://www.gettingbetterslowly.com