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Can’t Wait To Leave at Waterloo East Theatre

People move to London for a variety of reasons. On the whole, it is because they believe their life will be instantly better in the Big Smoke. Unfortunately, that is rarely the case and London can be a hard place to live. Most people work out an equilibrium with the city and have the best life they can but others finally realise they will never find the streets paved with gold and find London no longer holds the appeal it once did. That is certainly true for the protagonist in Stephen Leach’s new play Can’t Wait to Leave which has had its worldwide premiere at the Waterloo East Theatre.

Can't Wait To Leave - credit Vaneet Mehta.
Can’t Wait To Leave – credit Vaneet Mehta.

We first meet Ryan (Zach Hawkins) in a hospital waiting room while he is waiting to be seen, he tells us his story. Ryan is 19 and, following in his big brother’s footsteps, has recently moved to London. Ryan’s brother is a successful accountant, with a good job, friends and workmates that seem to adore him, as we hear from various voices (Zoe Boyd & Joe Idris-Roberts). He also has an attractive, if slightly irritating influencer girlfriend on his arm and is totally living the dream. Ryan on the other hand is currently living in a grotty flatshare and has a job in the gig economy. For him, the dream is still just out of reach, and London is turning out not to be the welcoming place he was hoping for. But he has his brother around for support so can just about cope with things. However, when things change and his prop leaves, Ryan is alone and friendless until Richard enters his life and maybe has the answers he seeks.

There will be elements of Ryan’s story that will definitely resonate with anyone that moved to London seeking a new, hopefully, better life. No matter how successful our personal stories may or may not be, we have all had some of the experiences and feelings about the town that Ryan has. Whether it’s just that feeling of loneliness and not quite being able to get on with London life, or the envy/awe felt when entering the apartment of someone who is more successful than you, Ryan’s feelings are a perfect reflection of our own and Stephen Leach has articulated them so well. In fact, much of Stephen’s writing is spot-on with realism. The posts from the influencer girlfriend are particularly good with that rather condescending style – particularly in the use of hashtags – that some of them use to show why they are so much better than you. Then there’s that wonderful moment when you realise pictures on ‘dating’ apps can’t be trusted but go through with things anyway because you’re there. Lovely little elements that make Ryan’s story relatable and understandable. I did wonder about Ryan’s trip home for Christmas which I wasn’t sure was needed, but thinking about it this morning, I can see the genius of adding it to not only show how Ryan was feeling but also demonstrating much of how he had turned out the way he had.

Whilst I really liked the overall story, I was very conflicted in my feelings towards Ryan himself. Ryan is a surprisingly complex character. At times, I found him extremely irritating – especially when in bitchy judgemental mode – at others I felt sorry for him and at others I couldn’t understand how someone so naïve managed to get himself up and dressed in the morning without assistance. Possibly it’s an age thing – I am definitely not in my late teens or early twenties after all – or maybe it’s because my own experience of moving to London was nothing like Ryan’s. Whatever it was, I did find him challenging and a little exasperating at times.

Obviously, my reaction to Ryan was influenced not only by the script but by Zach Hawkins’ performance which I have to say was excellent. As I’ve said before, a monologue must be very difficult to perform. You are alone, naked on the stage with no support if things go wrong but Hawkins is a true master of the craft. He took Leach’s well-crafted script and made Ryan a real-life breathing, thinking, feeling person that we all wanted to get to know. He used the stage and scenery – a simple set of hospital waiting room seats – beautifully and held the audience spellbound for some eighty minutes. I was really impressed with how Hawkins maintained his poise throughout. At one point it looked like he was having trouble getting his trousers on over his shoes, but he never stopped or broke character once, the real mark of a first-rate actor.

Can’t Wait to Leave is ultimately a really good story of one man’s realisation that sometimes dreams don’t come true so therefore what can he do about it? Whilst my feelings towards Ryan as a person were all over the place, the writing, staging and acting were so good that at the end I felt some affection for Ryan and the last two lines of the script left me wanting the best for him and wishing him well wherever his journey takes him in the future.

5 Star Rating

Review by Terry Eastham

Meet Ryan. 19 (but young for his age). School drop-out (but smart). Turkey sandwich enthusiast (365 days a year). Absolute stunner (no addendum).

He’s new in town, and all he wants to do is check out. The hard part is coming up with an exit plan.

When the one person he thought he could rely on ups and leaves, Ryan finds himself adrift in a city he still hasn’t learned to like, looking for direction. Six months to kill, no money, no rules… surely this is the worst possible time to be alone?

That’s when he meets Richard, who seems to have all the answers…

Fierce, razor-sharp, and uncompromisingly honest, Can’t Wait To Leave is a bitingly frank portrayal of loneliness and self-discovery from a phenomenal new talent.

Cast:
Zach Hawkins | Ryan
Zoe Boyd | voiceover
Joe Idris-Roberts | voiceover

Can’t Wait To Leave
by Stephen Leach
21 – 26 Feb 2023
https://www.waterlooeast.co.uk/

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