Review: Getting Better Slowly, New Diorama

Getting Better Slowly (which, cleverly, is GBS for short) is a piece created by Adam Pownall, who was affected by Guillain-Barré Syndrome. This is his story, adapted by Nick Wood into an evening of physical theatre, dance, struggle and, at times, even humour.

It is clear that Wood has adapted Pownall’s material with great care and dedication. The text flows well on stage, adopting an open, conversational tone that allows the actors to occasionally engage with their audience. It certainly mirrors the honesty of Pownall’s story; he doesn’t attempt to hide any of the pain or horror of his disease, allowing the audience to come intimately close to his struggle. His sense of humour is adapted by Wood with skill, and it sparkles whenever Pownall, performing as himself, cracks a joke.

Both performers, Kitty Randle plays a personified version of GBS, are required to multi-role, and so they are able to crowd the stage at moments of crisis or panic, as well being able to bring stillness to the lonelier moments of Adam’s struggle. Randle moves animalistically around Adam with a menacing voice. This, for me, felt a tad tired: we have seen several versions of this kind of creature twisting and turning about before, and I couldn’t help but feel that representing the disease this way was a missed opportunity.

Nevertheless, the space is used very well by both Randle and Pownall, with transformative set pieces designed by Kate Unwin. Poetical Machines Ltd, brought on board to design the music and soundscapes, do a wonderful job of capturing the audience: giving the piece colour, denoting subtle changes and supporting the intensity on numerous points throughout the evening.

This production is very educational: it refuses to shy away from making people uncomfortable and occasionally even sick. It is a bodily experience, and importantly it sheds light on a disease that few will have heard of before. It is a show that will captivate your mind, examining the human body with heartfelt precision.

Getting Better Slowly played at the New Diorama Theatre until October 3. It continues to tour nationally. 

Photo: Rob Day