Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Waiting for God

Michael Aitkens
James Seabright
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford

The popular TV series Waiting for God ran for five series in the early 1990s. A play version was suggested at the time but Aitkens was too busy to consider it.

Now, almost thirty years later, he considered again and here is the outcome. Some things don’t change so very much and this play, although brought up to date, has the same characters in the same situation and all with the same attitude to life.

What has changed is the perception of at what age you become officially "old". With Prince Philip still attending to his duties at 95, Mick Jagger at 74 still touring with the Rolling Stones and a 100-year-old woman going abseiling for the first time, it seems that age is only a state of mind—that is until the body lets you down.

Set in Bayview Retirement Home run by slimy, out-for-profit Harvey Baines, ex-war correspondent / photographer Diana Trent is furious at where life has now landed her and determined to make her presence felt at every opportunity, especially aiming her wrath at "the idiot Baines".

In the neighbouring apartment is ex-accountant Tom Ballard, deposited here as his daughter-in-law can’t stand him in the house any longer. Far from being upset and resentful, he optimistically regards this as the next "adventure" and happily "switches off" to indulges in flights of fancy, after one telling Diana he has just been to the moon. “One small step for man; one gigantic leap for Alzheimers” is her caustic, dismissive comment.

Diana’s caustic comments abound throughout the play, exquisitely timed and delivered by Nicola McAuliffe and guaranteed to keep the audience (many of whom see the relevance to themselves) in fits of laughter. Jeffrey Holland’s Tom, a totally contrasting character, has his own dry, humorous responses and surprisingly both find an attraction in the other, both actors inhabiting their respective roles superbly.

There are moments of visual comedy too—the brief glimpse of Holland’s bottom through the gap in hospital gown caused applause as well as laughter (not sure why), Diana anxiously checking for her knickers under the duvet and Haines getting his just desserts, attacked by Diana’s walking stick in a very vulnerable area. Samuel Collings had managed to make Baines so obnoxious by then that the audience almost cheered.

The main comedy though is firmly in the dialogue, very slick, very quick and very funny. Aitkens has now achieved an age to appreciate the problems and perhaps put a more personal slant on the writing.

Other characters from the series are present too. Niece Sarah (Joanna Bending) wants advice on whom to marry (and marries her own choice anyway—shades of her aunt) with time slipping by so quickly that in the next scene she’s going into labour. It is the talk of babies which has Diana showing her underlying vulnerability, portrayed so movingly by McAuliffe that tears are not far away.

Emily Pithon, as the soppily romantic secretary Jane, is desperate to be married, particularly to Harvey Baines (strange girl), and she gets her way in the end with the Two Weddings and a Funeral mix—my only disappointment with the show being the confines of the stage having them almost on top of each other—literally in one case.

Otherwise—loved it!

Reviewer: Sheila Connor