It’s a great and rather unusual pleasure to see a fine, short (40 minutes) one-act play professionally performed. Once the mainstay of theatre, especially the amateur sector, such plays are now as pretty rare. John Bowen’s The Waiting Room is a case in point. It premiered at Soho Theatre in 1970 and who’s come across it since?
Basically a powerful two-hander with two very minor roles for a pair of additional actors, the enjoyable and moving piece presents a man and a woman tensely awaiting something in a dusty waiting room although it isn’t until the end – a strong theatrical moment but no spoilers here – that we discover exactly what.
While they wait, the tension gradually tightens as moods and moments come and go. At first they pretend to be srangers. Then, bit by bit, they admit to each other that their lives are intimately linked through the sexual relationship that each has had with a third person – in a sense he is very much the third person present in the room. As they talk the past is slowly, painfully and occasionally humorously unravelled and we sympathise with both of them.
Beth Eyre, is brittle, forthright and anguished as the wealthy Harriet who has ever needed to work. Mark Rush has an unusual cadaverous face (I last saw him as a memorable male witch in the Wyrd Sisters production of Macbeth) which he uses to excellent effect here as Paul, the troubled, pained shop assistant whose personal life has collapsed completely. Paul Valentine is businesslike as the man who shows them into the waiting room and Tara Dowd counterbalances him as a busy cleaner.
The small basement lounge space at Leicester Square Theatre is ideally suited to an intimate, talk led piece such as this. The low ceiling and the closeness of the audience to the action add to the intensity. A good play, well directed and acted. Who can ask for more?