“From one waiting room to another,” mused a fellow theatregoer as we sat in the bar at the Courtyard Theatre, having finally been called through to the auditorium just minutes before the start of the performance. The Waiting Room starts pleasant enough. It steadily develops into a human pressure cooker, with a storyline that is completed faster than, say, the play that this production made me think of, Jean-Paul Sartre’s 1944 play Huis Clos (translated: ‘No Exit’), and its famous line, “L’enfer, c’est les autres” (Hell is other people).
It’s only very broadly similar to Huis Clos, however – an office block in Piccadilly is not the same as Hell, and anyway, it is never entirely clear what purpose their supposed ‘meeting’ is. We only know that three people who have never met before are gullible enough to have accepted an invitation to something quite vague. We never find out why they are there, and as the narrative develops, so many things about the trio are revealed that it stops mattering to the audience.
This play could only really be set in a British waiting room, with its quirky uneasiness between strangers striking up conversations with one another in a confined space. Set it almost anywhere else in the world, and the three would have reasonably quickly introduced themselves to one another, figured out between them that there is little purpose in sticking around for an indeterminate period whilst the organisation gets, um, organised, and either parted company shortly thereafter or perhaps gave gone off in search of the nearest coffee shop.
Here, though, Jeremy (Les Cochrane) is the textbook Brit, arriving for his appointment having left plenty of time, presumably having taken into account the possibility of delays on the railway. Finding any kind of noise or interruption an irritation to his reading of the morning paper, his pithy putdowns and general grumpiness stand in contrast to vibrant and bubbly (if airy-fairy) Ali (Rachel Callaghan), and nice-but-dim Mark (Dean Bartholomew). Neither of Jeremy’s waiting room-mates are always able to distinguish when he is being figurative or literal, often with amusing consequences as misunderstandings continually arise.
Asides regarding not mentioning ‘the Scottish play’ in a theatre and a most unsubtle hint about audiences spreading the word about shows they, ahem, enjoyed through social media (wink, wink) were rather bizarre and unnecessary: whilst raising titters in the audience generally, the lines fell flat for me. However, there isn’t, thankfully, any major critical incident that happens part-way through, around which the rest of the narrative zeroes in on and leeches to. There is some talk of future plans for the characters, and having finally established a rapport, by the end it is clear that they will be seeing one another again after all, as Jeremy rightly or wrongly decides to mix business with pleasure.
The number of topics discussed is very broad, but equally very credible – I thought it would follow that in a three-way conversation between strangers, it would take some probing questioning to even find out where each other’s interests lie. Ali seemed most adept at asking what needed to be asked, and dealt with Jeremy’s rebuffs almost like a journalist trying to get answers out of a politician desperate to stick to the party line.
There is, for me, nothing particularly meaningful to take away from the show – it clearly has decided to focus on comedy rather than character development. The consistent fluffy and sarcastic tones mean The Waiting Room never goes much further than skin-deep. Still, it’s a good effort from young writers Becky Callaghan and Kyle Brown, exploring the possibilities that can happen when strangers talk face-to-face rather than incessantly tap away at their smartphones. I trust they had as much fun writing it as I had seeing it on stage.
Review by Chris Omaweng
The Waiting Room, written by playwrights Becky Callaghan and Kyle Brown, tells the story of three strangers who find themselves in the same waiting room with no idea of why they have been invited there or what they could all have in common.
“We’ve all been in a situation where we’re stuck in a room with people we don’t like and there’s no foreseeable exit – and I thought this might make an interesting basis for a comedy,” Becky explains. “We’ve taken the events to a bit of an extreme, but hopefully the audience will spot the real-life basis which the humour is based on and see a number of things in the show they can relate to.”
Directed by John Callaghan and produced by What’s It All About (WIAA) Productions – the company Becky formed with her sister, Rachel, who plays one of the show’s three main characters. The other lead roles will be taken by Les Cochrane and Dean Bartholomew. Les trained with Lorrie & Dianne Hull in Los Angeles, and Giles Foreman and Brian Timoney in London; and Dean is a long-term member of the award-winning Loughton Amateur Dramatics group. Together, Les, Dean and Rachel create a dynamic which is both intriguing and hilarious.
The Waiting Room
The Courtyard Theatre
13th -18th October 2015 (7:30pm Tues-Sat, 7pm Sun)