The premise of "what if" is an undeniably powerful one and it's the slant that American playwright Michael Weller has chosen as the theme for his two-hander starring Gillian Andersen & Roger Allam. Two ex-lovers, married to other people, meet for a night of nostalgic passion but find themselves freshly emmeshed in a web of erotic confusion. Should they part once again or is this fate taking a hand meaning they're destined for one another? It's the sort of question that fascinates everyone.
Carl Jung commented that 'the meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed, ' and it's this metamorphosis that Weller puts under the microscope. Better handled, the material could certainly develop into an intriguing play. As it stands it's really a case of wasted potential. The first half works well enough as Melinda and Adam meet for an apparently innocuous meal eleven years after parting. Initial politeness soon dissolves into transparent desire and it rapidly becomes clear that each has a specific agenda for this meeting. It would help if one could care more about the individuals concerned but they're rather unlikeable folk, each rampantly consumed by their own desires and now firmly ensconced on an emotional carousel, dancing an amorous tango that threatens to remain unresolved.
As the play progresses it becomes rather unwieldy, needing some judicious editing to really grip an audience. Making her West End debut, The X Files' Anderson does a creditable job although it's Allam's Adam who seems more at ease in his role. It's a shame to see a good idea gone askew but there are enjoyable moments nonetheless.
The list of TV and film stars keen on making it big in London s glittering West End seems to be growing even larger. The latest addition to the list is Gillian Anderson, perhaps better known to most as Agent Dana Scully from The X Files, appearing now in a new play by American playwright Michael Weller. Anderson makes a decent if wobbly West End debut alongside British actor Roger Allam, but can their combined talents really show us what the night is for?
Weller s play has been floating around for some time (he claims Americans didn t get it ), waiting for a producer or Hollywood name to snap it up. No wonder it s taken so long to get a mounting, since Weller s awkward, over-drawn two hander seems largely vacuous despite all its relationship babble. Melinda Metz (Anderson) and Adam Penzius (Allam), former lovers but now both married, meet again in a hotel room. The result one passionate night of honesty and deceit, hope and regret. Weller s attitude to adultery and honesty is certain uncompromising Adultery is one thing, but I draw the line at exercise but it comes across as witty one liners linked together by inelegant, dull padding. The dialogue often seems stilted when it attempts to lecture the audience and only a few moments of confessional monologue ring true and are genuinely moving.
Anderson takes a long time to warm up as Lindy Metz in John Caird s detailed but under energised production. Lindy gradually transforms throughout the play (it would be unfair to reveal why), and Anderson s progression through the stages is impressive, but her performance still seems too self conscious to be genuinely affecting. After a slow, underpowered start, both character and energy levels begin to built, but her involvement with the emotional core of the text and her physical action only seems half hearted. Nevertheless, there are moments of confidence in which she commands both the stage and her co-star, but the weak moments really slow down this 2 hour and 15 minute show. Allam, despite an uncomfortable accent, holds his more serious character well and provides a nice contrast to Anderson s character, but sadly it feels as though she cools him down whenever he heats up.
The play itself is pretty adequate, and some flimsy moments of acting make Weller s false notes seem even falser. This is, however, an entertaining enough piece of theatre with emotions flying all over the place and some good comedic moments too. The actors keep the evening feeling cooler than it perhaps should be, but maybe with increased confidence over the preview period, things will really start to hot up.
Notices from the popular press....
JOHN THAXTER for THE STAGE says, "[Anderson/Allam] Delightful and engaging stage partnership." KATE STRATTON for TIME OUT says, "Sadly she [Anderson] too is a disappointment - like the script, all cliched gestures and voices." PATRICK MARMION for THE DAILY MAIL says, "Weller's dialogue is slick, sensitive and often funny - but funny-droll, never funny-hilarious." PAUL TAYLOR for THE INDEPENDENT says, "Weller's uninspired writing is not redeemed by the unconvincing acting." MICHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN says, "A play both painfully honest and unexpectedly funny." CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "There are moments during this dire new play that plumb such excruciating depths of embarrassment that I felt like screaming....This one is a pure, unmitigated stinker."
External links to full reviews from newspapers