The Waiting Room
The Lost Theatre
From 28 August 2012 to 16 September 2012
Review by Howard Loxton
You’ve probably already guessed the premise of this play, the title gives it away.
The hospital A & E reception at which the characters think they have arrived is actually limbo. Theatregoers have been there before but writer-director Serge Rashisi-Zakuani (SRZ) adds another element: these people are accompanied by other entities which the cast list calls their shadows, who are free-ranging like Philip Pullman’s daemons in His Dark Materials, ever present, ever watchful.
Those already waiting include Sophie and Jess, two young women who have been involved in a motoring accident. Then there’s Jermaine and Adie, an argumentative couple of guys who have been in a fracas at a party, an older man, the self-important Mr Grahams who has also been in a car crash with his wife, though she’s not with him, and Gary, a bloke who can’t remember why he’s there at all.
There is no one at the reception desk and Cory Roberts’s set doesn’t look like most A & E departments I’ve been in; the walls are covered in documents and what may be photos and there’s just a line of chairs along the wall. It is no wonder they are all disoriented, especially when any of them try to go out to look for staff and find that the doors don’t open outwards: they only let people in.
These people aren’t quiet and self absorbed; their strange circumstances make them talkative, describing their situations, revealing things about themselves and their lives. The shadows sometimes act out an incident as someone describes it. This sometimes makes it easier to interpret what they are saying for these actors do a lot of shouting and mumbling. SRZ has a good ear for street talk but when the dialogue consists mainly of repetitions and redundancies like “innit” and “yer know what I mean”, that swamps what phrases of real information are there. Instead I found myself watching the carefully choreographed movements of the shadows and the intensity of their gazes.
What seems to emerge is that the two car crashes may actually be the same one and the party guys and the girls seem to know each other. The besuited husband, sporting a bow tie and a cummerbund, claims to have been a big-time businessman and now to be a charity fundraiser, but his accent and his manner seem quite at odds with that. Is there a story to be uncovered or is it just awkward casting?
The action progresses in many short scenes. There are blackouts between them which presumably are to mark time passing. They allow the actors to regroup but they are irritatingly long. Sometimes a change of lighting state shifts the action from the people to their shadows, the shadows freezing as something is enacted. This shifts visual emphasis but is not used consistently which blurs its significance.
By the end of the first act, the receptionist has turned up and the explanations begin. In the second, the characters discover a more articulate way of speaking and we discover more about them. Lee Thomas’s Gary, for instance, describes how what seemed the perfect partnership with his girlfriend when they were young disintegrated as they grew and developed into people with different ideas and aspirations.
Roberta Mair’s distressed Sophie declares she “thought death was meant to be the end to pain and all that—but I still feel everything I felt before the accident". When they ask for answers, Rosie Secker’s Receptionist tells them, “God works in mysterious ways. He wants you to come to terms with the answers for yourselves.” Eventually the doors are opened and they all go on to their next destination and ending to which SRZ gives an added twist.
Jason Lazarus and Michael Duah give Jermaine and Ade a violent energy but they, and nearly all the speaking cast, are much less successful in making a connection with the audience and there are times when lines sound rehearsed rather then freshly minted.
Those playing the shadows, on the other hand, consciously embrace the audience. The way in which they are choreographed is the best part of SRZ’s production and in their fluid movement and exceptional sensitivity, Aaron Dinnall, Adam Njenga and Chris Nnaemeka hold the attention much more effectively than the speaking characters—though that is probably not what the director intended.