1 September 2012

The Waiting Room at the LOST Theatre

I only found out about this play through a personal invitation to go and review it. I have been asked to do this a few times before but never for anything that actually interested me. This did so I went.

The hook was the promise of an "intriguing, surreal and thought provoking new play". There are lots of nice words in that sentence.

The LOST Theatre lies somewhere between Clapham Junction and Vauxhall. This a part of Town that I do not know that well despite having worked at Lambeth Council for a few years and also making recent visits to other local theatres, e.g. Theatre503.

Finding the theatre is easy as the seating area projects brazenly over the pavement. That in itself is reassuring as it tells you that you are heading for a "proper theatre" rather than a loose arrangement of seats in a small room above a pub. A rough guess suggests that it hold around 200 people and that makes it quite a good sized theatre. I approve.

I also approve of the pre-theatre area (or bar, if you prefer). It has all the hallmarks of having been recently refreshed with clean paintwork, robust carpets, neat signs and a welcome display of artwork. The bar is well-stocked too and I killed the wait with a pint of Fruli sensibly delivered in a non-glass non-plastic receptacle.

The plus side of the eco-friendly receptacle was that I could take it in to the theatre which is just as well as it was oppressively hot in there, my only criticism of the venue.

Possibly the best news about the theatre was the generous leg room.

I settled in to a middle seat about five rows back and waited for people to enter The Waiting Room that I could see before me on the curtain-less stage.

We are introduced quite quickly to the cast as first two young women arrive followed soon after by two men of the same age. They are all very urban and speak a heavily-black idiom, you get me bruv. Most of the patter and slang was familiar, mostly from pastiches by white middle-class middle-aged comedians, and only twice during the show was I completely lost. The mostly younger and blacker audience laughed at those points so the remarks hit their target.

Later two older men arrive separately, one a thirty-something and one smartly dressed fifty-something. The last time I saw somebody in Lambeth wearing a bow-tie it was me.

Also on stage were six shadows, dressed entirely in black, who moved slowly and mostly silently around the stage paying rapt attention to the conversations and reacting to these with sudden movements and exaggerated expressions. Just occasionally they echoed out loud some of the key phrases.

There is no sign of any staff and the people start to talk to kill the time by talking to each other. They started by saying what had brought them there and this revealed a lot about their lifestyles and also some connections between them.

The two young men live in a world were violence is common and they are there because they have just been in a fight at a party. The two women had been at the same party but one had had a row with her boyfriend and they had left drunk and angry. They drove.

They drove in to the car of the posh man whose wife is now missing.

The final man had been at a school reunion and had been ignored by everybody including the girlfriend he had been with for several years. He had gone home miserable and sad.

The shadows come to life when the group talk about their histories and they act out the scenes that are being talked about. This is a nice touch that helps to enliven a play which, to be simplistic, is about six people sitting in a room and talking to each other.

At some point the realise that they cannot get out of the room and they are, in fact, dead. This is some surprise to them but not to anybody watching.

The first half ends with an excessively bubbly woman, an angel?, arriving to explain the situation to them.

In the second half the group try to come to terms with their deaths, the waiting process that they are now going through and also the lives that they had led.

As in the first half, the most interesting part of the play is the conversations that the group have about themselves, their motives and their aspirations.

For example, the older man says that his life seems to have flashed past and the younger people react strongly to this making the point that at least he had had a life whereas they had all died in their early twenties.

These conversations take us through six stories simultaneously and that is the richness of the play.

Then we hit a dip.

Not only is this a waiting room for an afterlife it is an overtly Christian one and we even get one of the street-wise youths saying that he now sees why god sent Jesus to join us. Ignoring the fact that this is just a fiction, it deflates the play by removing all the mystery. It gives us an answer that we do not need and I do not accept as valid. It turns the play from a drama to a sermon. But, like the best sermons, this part is short and can be forgiven and forgotten.

There is a final twist to come but I am not going to spoil that for you.

The ending gives the play a story, but that's not the point. The purpose is in the dialogue that gets you there. The Waiting Room has an interesting mix of people that are all convincing and we care for all of them. The actors and their shadows do a good job in engaging us in their lives.

This is a warm play about people who have failed but find strength in sharing their weaknesses with each other. It's all rather uplifting and well delivered.

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