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Waiting

Victoria Brittain
Part of the Election 10 series
Purcell Room at the Queen Elizabeth Hall
(2010)

Publicity photo

"This country I came to, for refuge, for peace" is a mantra repeated to emphasise the irony of Waiting, an evening of meditation on the unintended consequences of the War on Terror, that could as easily have been entitled "Love Never Dies" had Lord Lloyd Webber not got there first.

Victoria Brittain, who co-wrote Guantanamo - 'Honor Bound to Defend Freedom' with Gillian Slovo, has created a haunting Verbatim exploration of the experience of British-based wives of Muslim political prisoners which is perhaps the most depressing 90 minutes of theatre that this critic can recall.

Through the mouths of three actresses (plus three on film) and two opera singers, it relates the traumas that ordinary women have suffered in our supposedly civilised country.

Waiting proves to be a terrible indictment of Great Britain. Each of these women is harmless, merely trying to bring up children in a normal family unit but prevented from doing so by the kind of barbarity that we happily condemn when equivalent tales leak out of Third World countries.

Whether their husbands are held in Guantanamo, Belmarsh, Broadmoor even, or have been banished from our shores, the result is the same, a generally large family finds itself abandoned in squalid conditions with far too little support from the authorities.

The stories beggar belief. Juliet Stevenson's Sabah spends years waiting for news of her Pakistani husband who, even after acquittal in Guantanamo, is still not allowed to rejoin children who can hardly remember him, if they ever have.

Simone James as Alexia tells a similar story about her polio-crippled Algerian husband, kept under the harshest house arrest when he isn't in prison. Even stranger in some ways is Wendy played by Gemma Jones, a 67 year old typically English grandmother who fell in love with a severely disabled man 25 years her junior who was subsequently deported.

This behaviour by Government should not be permitted in a civilised society, even if these men are terrorists and there seems no evidence to prove that this is the case.

The staging by Poppy Burton-Morgan is simple, with the stories cut into each other and variety introduced by Oliver Coates's solo cello and the beautiful singing of Anna Dennis and Carole Wilson each telling further tales of womanly woe, both models of clarity as well as musical beauty.

Waiting should be compulsory viewing for the politicians who have the power to invoke change. It is inevitably a chastening experience that should make every viewer reconsider their own values and those of a country that can act like this.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher