BATS Theatre, The Heyday Dome, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

16/08/2016 - 20/08/2016

Production Details

Well is a devised piece of theatre, formed through interviews about mental health 

In 2015, over thirty people volunteered to be interviewed when we announced the concept of our show.  It was then when we became aware exactly how much people wanted to share their own stories, to hear the words of others and to be heard themselves.

We have taken direct quotations from the stories that were shared with us and woven these together to form Well.

Well explores what it means to be well, from un-well perspectives. Since one in five New Zealanders will have a mental illness affect them in a year; we wanted to create a space where this experience is normalised rather than ‘othered’.

Presenting a focus on labels, relationships, medication and everyday life, Well shares stories of lived experiences, challenging  stigma associated with them and provokes a conversation that is long overdue.

We don’t want to shy away from the hard stuff. Our aim is to be truthful and discuss mental health with respect and hope. We have crafted the show to leave you smiling, even if there are tears in your eyes. We also know that people who have stories of their own will be affected more than those who don’t.

Trigger Warning: Please keep this in mind when deciding if you would like to attend, this production includes discussion of suicide and physical performance of panic attacks and vomiting. Includes brief discussion of mania, psychosis, depression, anxiety, addiction, bulimia and anorexia. 

Please feel free to contact us directly if you have any questions about the show at womenarentwolvesproductions@gmail.com

BATS Theatre, Dome Stage, 1 Kent Terrace, Wellington 
Tuesday 16 – Saturday 20 August 2016 
BOOK here

Theatre ,

1 hr

Towards a better understanding

Review by John Smythe 17th Aug 2016

I have to admit I can’t help comparing Well with two other homegrown shows about mental illness – Freya Desmarais’ HOME / The Hilarious Comedy About How I Nearly Killed Myself / A Play About How I Nearly Died But Didn’t Then Learned A Lot About Life Afterward (2013) and Rob Mokoraka’s SHOT BRO: Confessions of a Depressed Bullet (2016) – if mostly to note its point of difference.

All three use theatre to reveal and share abiding truths about mental illness. Both HOME and Shot Bro are autobiographical, and the fact that their perpetrators are right there in front of us, using their exceptional creative skills to share their experiences and enlighten us through entertainment, adds a crucial dimension to their shows. They have survived, they are brave, they are generous and we are the grateful recipients of their gifts.

Well has been distilled and structured by writer/ director Zoe Joblin from over thirty interviews with mental health patients. It is ‘verbatim theatre’ in that most of what is said by the three actors – Courtney Rose Brown, Annabella Gamboni and Aimee Smith – was said by an interviewee.

Other verbatim plays, like The Keys Are In The Margarine (about dementia) and Munted (about the Christchurch earthquakes), have generated a particular theatrical sorcery by precisely replicating vocal intonations and physical behaviours from the sound or video recordings. It is not clear whether the performances in Well are likewise informed – and it makes a difference, I think, to our perception.

While all three actors are intent on ‘becoming’ the person whose words they are saying and feelings they are feeling – mostly as they comment on, rather than re-experience, significant episodes in their stories – there are times when I get the discomforting feeling that someone is doing ‘crazy person’ acting. If I knew this was mirroring actual observed behaviour I would, of course, find it acceptable. Most of the time, however, I do believe in the truth of what they are saying and how they are being.

The show opens with noise: a cacophony of recorded voices jumbling the ubiquitous labels and jargon … as visual static is projected onto an angular arrangement of flimsy gauze backdrops (designed by Kasey Collins). A small square bath sits centre stage and is effectively utilised as each performer progresses – or tries to – from wearing an institutional white nightie to something more individual.

Aimee Smith handles two potatoes as a recurring image (you’ll have to see it to know why), Courtney Rose-Brown does things with glass jars and water, and at one point I notice Annabella Gamboni pushing a small rock as she crawls across in the background. I assume (and stand to be corrected) that these visual and physical elements have arisen from their performance devising process rather than close observation of the interviewees.

There is a subtle three-act structure in Joblin’s script, starting with consideration of what they and we mean by ‘mental illness’, progressing to recollections of, and commentary on, actual experiences of eating disorders, bi-polar highs and lows, anxiety attacks, self-harm, thoughts of suicide and the questions surrounding medication, and resolving with observations on it all from a ‘wellness’ perspective.

All meanings of the title – Well – apply; we get a good sense of how deep the ‘black hole’ can be at one extreme and welcome the rise to a state of wellbeing. Unlike HOME and Shot Bro, however, this is more arms-length, more ‘on the outside looking in, despite our sharing the thoughts and feelings of actual mental health patients.

The important thing is that the interviewees wanted to share their stories and that Women Aren’t Wolves Productions have created this work to bring them to light. The conditions and experiences canvassed in Well are more common than we may like to admit. It behoves us all to listen, empathise and work towards a better understanding. 


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