Still Waiting

Few lives are stranger than fiction. So finding a creative hook amongst the tedium of being a snoring, stinking, stropping human isn’t easy. For this play’s writer-director, the burden is even heavier, as Dominic Gee-Burch pays tribute to his grandparents by painting a moving portrait of their struggle through the Second World War.

This is a story with great ambition. Its timeline spans decades, dipping in and out of enemy territory to follow Harold, trapped in a Polish prisoner of war camp, and Joan, back home in Blighty.

But despite these grand aspirations, Still Waiting begins with a little too much caution. As Harold and his fellow soldiers Phillip and Simon are captured and tortured, the performers seem a little too focused on sounding scared without seeming genuinely gripped with fear. This clashes clumsily with Stephen Hall’s German radical, who is more Bond villain than ruthless renegade.

Simon, played by Sean Gannon never quite escapes this routine. Throughout the play he screams and shouts with a ferocity that flirts with psychosis, but which lacks the conviction to seem threatening. Similarly Jono Wells as Jim, plays the token daft northerner with a self-awareness that seems all too conscious of the frustrating cliché his character perpetuates.

This risks distracting from Rob O’Connor’s powerful performance as Harold. He works his stage presence with such subtlety that he is a natural focal point rather than a suggested one. The second act in particular gives O’Connor the space to speak movingly and powerfully, adding precise depth to Harold’s character.

The second act in itself is slightly troubling, as the narrative comes to a natural conclusion at the end of the first. However, Act Two narrowly avoids redundancy by refocusing the storyline, and honing the play’s themes.

One of the braveries of Still Waiting is its portrayal of Chaplin, the friendly Nazi prison guard. This in itself is a compelling concept, which reminds the audience that many Germans were forced into the war just as much as the Brits were. But while the play removes blame from the rank and file troops, it fails to refocus that blame on any tangible source of evil, and comes too close to ignoring the fundamental fact of Nazi complicity in the war’s greatest atrocities.

As a tribute to the writer’s loved ones however, Still Waiting is a slightly over-sentimental success. The story engages, with a large cast of characters who are each neatly woven into the narrative. Particular praise goes to Todd Baker who, as the charismatic life-of-the-camp Wilkie, makes a uniquely sincere connection with the audience.

In a sense, the same can be said of the play in general. It might not add much to our understanding of WWII, but it forges a link between conflict and thinking, feeling, caring humanity.

Robert Cooke, Forge Arts, 8th July 2010