I’ve moved to London three times in my life. I suppose it’s safe to say that I’m pretty settled now but I remember moving here when I was 20, not knowing anyone, finding a random flat and navigating my way for the first time. For a while it was a hard place to live, to find my feet and make friends. So, when Ryan (Zach Hawkins) tells us of moving to London and with an undercurrent of feeling and being alone throughout, well it all sounded very familiar.
We first meet Ryan in a medical waiting room. He has moved to London following his older brother. He doesn’t know anyone else, has taken a gig economy delivery job and is living in a not-very-nice flatshare way out in Hounslow. After Ryan’s brother announces he’s leaving London, it leaves him feeling even more alone and unsupported. He takes up a relationship, of sorts with Richard, a much older man who he met through his brother. But the age, power and money disparity between them, not to mention the older men’s disdain for Ryan’s bisexuality, never sets this as a healthy relationship.
Hawkins engages the audience from the off, carefully but casually looking all around the audience, talking to everyone as a whole but also as if to everyone individually and directly. It is an effective way of drawing us all in. Hawkins is quite charming which, along with Stephen Leach’s script, lets us keep up with Ryan even when he frequently doesn’t come across as a very nice guy. We hear Hawkins’ mostly excellent impressions of other characters, like a particularly funny version of his influencer sister-in-law but (ok, I may be biased) a truly atrocious Northern Irish accent grates badly.
The story uses flashbacks to let Ryan tell his story, with each point carefully showing us just how alone Ryan feels. He is a young man, alone in a metropolis, without support, believing his future holds nothing good and seemingly trapped in a spiral of loneliness. His hopes for a better life in the big city, alongside his brother, slip further and further away. The script’s nuance points to the depression that Ryan sinks further and further into. When his relationship with Richard becomes physically and sexually abusive Ryan has nowhere to turn, and his story could easily end in a darker place with him unable or unwilling to seek help.
Aside from Hawkin’s performance, guided by Leach’s direction, effective light and sound (Gareth McLeod) helps in setting its mood. But running a full 30 minutes longer than the listed run-time, Can’t Wait To Leave does start to feel it. Not that you can tell from Hawkins, who gives a formidable performance. But 90 minutes is a long time for a monologue. Early sections verge on being a stand-up performance and others (the festive family gathering especially) could do with another look to consider whether they add anything to the story. While there is a huge amount to like in the script, a judicious edit would be welcomed and alleviate the drop-off in the last 20 minutes; there is a noticeable disengagement within parts of the audience.
Maybe helped by the fact that I’ve lived some of this experience, for the entire time I felt Ryan’s loneliness and isolation deep inside. I remember feeling much of that when I ended up in London a lifetime ago. I hope Ryan’s life turns out okay for him in the end.
Written and directed by Stephen Leach
Can’t Wait To Leave plays at Waterloo East Theatre until 26 February. Further information and tickets can be found here.