The Five Stages of Waiting

Reviewer's rating

It’s not often you get to see plays written for an entirely female cast, let alone a world premiere of this kind. So it’s a shame two of the protagonists are such gendered stereotypes: the career woman versus the full time mother.

Three estranged sisters sit in a hospital waiting room while their mother undergoes brain surgery. So begin the five stages of waiting. And waiting. And waiting. We never really find out what those five stages are: there’s a drunk one, and one with a fight but the rest blur into tense silences and bickering.

The character development really happens when the sisters aren’t together, but addressing the audience while on the phone (to characters we never hear or see). These one-sided phone conversations are layered effectively with a surgeon reading out medical reports, blurring the personal and the professional aspects of the play. Because both kinds of monologue are addressed at the audience, we become both the confidante and the patient; an interesting position to be in.

The blurb for the play claims, ‘First rule of waiting rooms: no laughing’. How accurate. The jokes are predictable and not all of the actors can carry them. In fact, the rule can also be applied to living rooms. Halfway through the show the set changes, via pop-rock and alcohol, to the mother’s house (we never actually see her). Here the arguing escalates. First rule of living rooms: no laughing. Acting drunk is challenging, and doing it badly is painful to watch. Things become more and more predictable. So begin the stages of waiting for the play to end.

The acting standards vary, with Winn onto a winner as the obvious strength in casting. She transcends her workaholic role, while Marsh is endearing as the overly helpful, underappreciated friend. The other sisters are less convincing.

One sister (Spreadbury) is in a bratty, What Do I Do With My Life, crisis. The other two sisters (Winn and Blackwood) seem to represent her two options in life: career or family. Both characters are dissatisfied with what they’ve chosen. The fact that you can only have one option is discussed, but disappointingly, never challenged. In the end it seems Spreadbury, after much shouting, frowning and arm waving, chooses option number one.

It’s frustrating to watch the characters fail to deal with such divisive options, but maybe it’s meant to be. For this reason, the most interesting character is the surgeon (Ramanee). She reads out medical results and shopping lists throughout the play, merging the professional and domestic spheres. She is the option the sisters haven’t thought of. Overall, the premier of this fringe piece is good in places, but could be sharper and less predictable.