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Review – Waiting – Storyhouse Chester

APTLY timed to coincide with Remembrance week, Waiting is a wartime drama that writer Gail Young has been working on for a number of years. Inspired by recollections from her own family’s experience of WWII, the story she tells cleverly encompasses a broad range of scenarios and emotions, by recollecting the war years through the eyes of one extended family in Liverpool.

At the core of the story are Jessie and Peter Wright, their three children, and Peter’s mother Amy and his brother David. Soon to join this family unit is David’s fiancée and, later, wife Theresa, and they are surrounded by a close knit community of aunts, uncles and friends.

The tough but happy equilibrium of their lives which is laid out for us at the beginning is soon to be challenged with the outbreak of war and, across two hours, Young’s text, under the tight direction of Yvette Owen, succeeds in drawing together a great many diverse story elements in a manner that never feels contrived.

Central to everything is Peter’s juggling act to do the right thing when faced with the conflicting wishes of his family. His decision to evacuate the children to Wales causes a rift with both his wife and mother, and his own inner need to join up against his family’s wishes gives him grief for other reasons than he imagined. Ally Goodman’s Peter is a character frustrated at every turn, but he remains the lynchpin of the family.

Dan Aynsley is Peter’s younger brother David, who falls for Theresa and nearly splits the family in two when his mother realises that he intends to marry a Catholic. Then to make matters worse he heads off with the Navy leaving his young wife back at home and expecting a child, as the city falls victim to the ravages of the Blitz. Aynsley pitches David’s character beautifully, striking a fine balance between stoicism and youthful innocence.

The writing is clearly on the wall that tragedy is going to befall this family but, when they come, the repeated hammer blows that fate delivers arrive from very unexpected directions. Here is clever writing that allows us to anticipate the loss and separation that we associate with wartime, but bringing its cruel turns with quite a dramatic twist or two.

There is a lot of fine acting amongst a strong ensemble cast, including nice character turns from Dawn Adams as Peter and David’s mother Amy, and from Mike Howard and Andrea Jones as Uncle Eddie and Auntie Eileen, both of whom also bring us some excellent vocals that deliver light relief between dramatic scenes.

The standout performances here though are undeniably from Kat Tanczos as Jessie and Felicity Parry as Theresa. Both bring a level of realism to their characters that is deserving of high praise. Tanczos treads a delicate line with Jessie, who is a strong-willed mother frequently at her wits end with fear and frustration. Parry meanwhile beautifully captures the young wife who quietly endures the anti-Catholic scorn from her mother in law and gradually wins the family around with the warmth and genuineness of her personality.

Special note must also go to Ethan Harrison, Savannah Bristow and Cara Sconce for their fine interpretation of the Wright children. There are many very exposed scenes for the children alone, and they deliver their dialogue unfalteringly. It is really easy to believe these three as siblings.

Excellent use is made of the intimate space of Storyhouse’s Garrett Theatre, with the insertion of a few externally filmed sequences adding scope to the simple onstage set – a ploy that achieves its goal of propelling the story forward but is never over-used.

The story itself may well be about a family and a community who are desperately waiting for it all to be over, but this certainly isn’t a feeling that ever extends to the audience here. Owen’s sure-footed direction keeps the pace moving so that no scene or individual storyline outstays its welcome, and Young’s multi-layered script turns one family’s narrative into a sweeping portrait of a nation’s shared experience.

Review by Nigel Smith

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