I will be the first too admit, I was sceptical walking into The Shop Front Theatre, Coventry. I had envisioned the intimate venue to be a hindrance to the performance of All is Well, but, if I learnt anything, it's to never judge a book by a cover... or a shop by its windows. The intimacy and absurdity of the venue was wonderful, and there was something deeply moving about hearing the ticking of a clock on a back wall whilst watching a show about somewhere lost to time.
All Is Well tells the story of four strangers exploring Chernobyl, each examining the lost town with their own reasons for being there. Mark Carey plays Aleks, a nuclear safety inspector with a tragic past. Carey was glorious to watch, his monologue about seeing his mother drunk was a personal highlight, he encapsulated the audience on his every word. Jack Richardson plays the sheepish Stefan (along with a rather gloriously designed puppet of a Blackbird), he provided some of the biggest laughs of the night with his nervous and pessimistic imagination. Aimee Powell plays Nina, the moral compass of the piece, Powell plays a strong character, and delivers a terrific performance throughout the piece, however I couldn't help but feel that playwright Vanessa Oakes somewhat underdeveloped her character. She appeared for most of the play to talk about several bad experiences, if this play is staged again, it would be interesting to see her character develop into the audiences eyes of Chernobyl, with her being the most unfamiliar with the area. Finally Janice McKenzie plays the mysterious Anna, McKenzie's turn of phrase was a delight to watch, her bleak and rather sadistic view on the world brought many a laugh to the audience, it is a shame we never got to understand her true character in the slightly muddled final scenes of the play, however her performance would leave the audience wondering for days after.
Director Mark Evans encapsulated the world of Chernobyl beautifully, having the characters describe the stage directions was an interesting approach which paid off, we were no longer looking at the constraints of a shop and instead the audience felt absorbed in the action. The simplicity of Nancy Surman's set design of Chernobyl was beautiful, fitting the conditions of the auditorium well and yet never feeling that the stage was bare at any moment.
All Is Well was an interesting and thought-provoking hour of theatre with bags of potential. The run continues at the mac in Birmingham this week. Catch it while you can.
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