Pros: The chemistry among the cast really brought out the humour.
Cons: The dialogue felt overly dramatic, and the development of the story lacked clarity.
The Five Stages of Waiting is the story of three estranged sisters who are brought back together by their mother’s sudden illness. While their mother is on the operating table for a brain tumor, the sisters sitting in a hospital waiting room are forced to confront the jealousies and regrets of their different life choices. Sarah is a young mother of two, and her twin sisters Liz and Jen are like chalk and cheese: Jen living a somewhat isolated existence as an academic and Abby, a hairdresser who’s beginning to question her carefree living.
Author Caro Dixey has provided a wonderful set-up that provides plenty of laughs about the odd and quirky things we say to each other in times of crisis. The show dares to make jokes about brain tumors that are very funny. The awkward presence of both the elderly patient and Sarah’s well-meaning friend Abby also provide some light relief. Many of their well-meaning assurances go awry, including Abby’s offer of a jelly baby to soothe her friend’s impending despair! Some meaty themes are explored along the way, including whether to believe in God, coping with grief and how personal disaster pushes us to search for meaning in life.
Yet for me the overall experience of the play was one of aggravation. Much of the dialogue is overly quarrelsome and this was often unjustified. I should say that I’m not a fan of the frustrated tone and exaggerated feelings that tend to be the reserve of soap operas and this was what was replicated here. A run of dead-end put-downs from one sister to the other, along with ringing mobile phones, and the sisters’ exasperated exits and entrances were well executed, but interfered with getting to know the characters. The show makes much of the silence of waiting but the lack of flow to the piece made the silences flat and uninteresting. A greater commitment to either the comedy or the drama elements might have helped this, but I felt that the piece is trying to do too many things at once.
There are good performances from the cast of six women, whose chemistry really brought out the humour and heart of the piece. I enjoyed the sections where the sisters begin to reconnect and we get to see them just being girls together.
The cast enacts a fun set change that takes us from the hospital room to the family home, reminiscent of the opening credits to the show Friends. Then they laugh, get riotously drunk together, discussing the men in their lives and their childhood memories. The development of the piece gets a bit messy after that, leaving me confused about the timing of the sister’s get-togethers and the interspersed sections of the doctor’s reports on the mother’s surgery and prognosis.
Overall, there is much in this piece that is worthy of further development, but I want to stress that the audience was laughing throughout and that is the aspect of this family comedy drama people are likely to enjoy and remember. The theatre space at The Tristan Bates is intimate and charming, but in case you turn up late, it is worth noting that the entrance leads almost onto the stage, which surprised a few latecomers who inadvertently became part of the show. It’s in no way a problem, but the abysmally shy among us might appreciate the heads-up.
Writer: Caro Dixey.
Director: Sophie Moniram.
Producers: Vertical Line Theatre in association with Greenwich Theatre
Box Office: 020 7240 6283.
Booking Link: http://tristanbatestheatre.co.uk/whats-on/the-five-stages-of-waiting–camden-fringe-2014
Booking Until: 9th August 2014.