Harriet and Paul meet in the waiting room of a hospital. A chance encounter or so it seems. As the conversation flows, they realise they may have more in common than they thought, and that this meeting was no coincidence.
John Bowden’s The Waiting Room is a gem of a play. There’s tension, sympathy and an odd – but beautiful – story of love contained in a time capsule of writing and linguistic tone from the late sixties/early seventies. It is a tricky and delicate look at human behavior and emotions and I’m pleased to say it is brought to life brilliantly in director Jenny Eastop’s production at the Leicester Square Theatre.
Mark Rush and Beth Eyre star as Paul and Harriet– two supposed strangers meeting in a hospital waiting room who get to talking and find they have far more in common than they previously thought. What follows is a clever and poignant dialogue about love and loss.
Paul and Harriet are in many ways opposites – Paul is working in a department store and is a soft-spoken young man while Harriet is clearly more well off and more provocative and antagonistic in her tone of voice – but yet the two have some very moving and sympathetic common ground. When both are forced to confront – in a very literal sense – their reason for being in the same room, it’s a touching moment and is rather quietly moving. The play is billed as being about a chance encounter, but there’s far more to it than that – this play is a story about love – messy, unpredictable love, with no hope for a happily ever after.
The two lead actors do so well to bring the setting of a dusty and under-loved 1970’s waiting room to life. Both excel at the historically relevant aspect of the role – the voices feel right for the era, and Rush is really rather charming in this role. He initially presents a fairly youthful naivety for Paul that adapts wonderfully to reveal a rather grown-up and serious regard for a great private heartbreak. Eyre is judgmental and dismissive initially – particularly as her Harriet aims to get a rise from Paul over his limited (in her eyes) ambitions – but softens and becomes far more likeable when admitting to her emotional weakness in front of Paul.
There’s something very charming about this performance, even if some aspects of the script are a little bit predictable – two people being asked to be in the same waiting room at the same time are bound to have something in common, really – but the clever (and rather ahead of its time in a very healthy way) twist to the story enables the characters to come alive and move from awkward and nervous conversation and interactions into a dialogue full of guilt, jealously, un-resolved heartache and forgiveness. Eyre and Rush bat back and forth with confessions and honest revelations regarding their common interest, and the emotion brought to the surface is raw and captivating.
It’s a shame in many ways that the play is so short – it tops out at just 40 minutes – but this is a very compact and fulfilling production which deserves a longer run and, admittedly, a better space in which to run in. The Leicester Square theatre is dim and claustrophobic, which adds to the sensation of being in a waiting room, yet doesn’t allow for great views of the stage, and the lack of staggered level seating in the room means that some small gestures and nuances are missed – such a shame, as everything the actors do is relevant in this, and nothing should be missed.
As well as being well-written and acted, the play also has some very funny moments. Eyre and Rush play off of each other well, and the play does include a full spectrum of emotions for the audience to feel – particularly at the rather sad and conclusive ending.
The Waiting Room has finished its run at Leicester Square Theatre, but as and when it comes up again – it is not to be missed. Follow the production on twitter @waiting_room_ for their next performance dates.
The writer was given complimentary tickets to review this production.