John Bowen’s 1970s play The Waiting Room was masterfully brought back to the London stage for an all-too short run.
By Patrick Cash
Down in the dark bowels of the Leicester Square Theatre, director Jenny Eastrop tightened the tension in the air, and distilled whisky-strong, plastic-melting performances from her two talented lead actors.
Beth Eyre and Mark Rush are the woman and man ushered in to wait together in an unspecified room – other than a waiting room – as the drama begins. Eyre sparkles upon the stage, perfectly embodying her character wrapped in rich, who lets nerves lead her into a well-spoken interrogation of her brooding companion. Rush holds the audience’s attention throughout, clearly having something to hide, as he avoids Eyre’s eye and plays with his collar.
When it emerges that both young people are joined together by a man – husband to her, lover to him – an extra frisson of edgy, sexually charged energy trickles into the mix. It’s remarkable, and commendable, how naturally Bowen’s writing deals with the subject of same-sex relationships, considering this was written in the 70s when being gay was still ‘A Big Thing’. However, it becomes apparent that the genders of this ménage-a-trois are not at the core of this production.
No, it is about how this man who is absent from the stage, yet who exists in every whisper, breathes in between the actors’ breaths between words, and is present in their every action. Both characters have been touched, burnt and scarred by the presence of this man, his love and his thoughts of how the world should work, that they carry his soul still with him in their skin.
Which is what makes the very last image of the production so eloquently bare but intimate, and rich in its stark potency. I didn’t quite know how the two extra characters of the caretaker and the cleaner fitted into the general dramaturgy, but this short play is certainly worth seeing, should it hopefully return for a longer run in the near future.
‘The Waiting Room’
The Leicester Square Theatre, 6 Leicester Place, WC2H 7BX
Monday 19th January