Everyone in the world, no matter who you are, will suffer the loss of someone they love. It’s an inevitability that children will outlive their parents (you hope), and if you have ever been in the unfortunate situation to be waiting for news in the hospital, I can tell you from experience that that is the time old feuds, secrets and family matters really come to the fold.
The Five Stages of Waiting focuses on a family that come together after they hear that the mother has a tumour the size of a potato growing in her. Although the mother is the center of attention she is never seen. The audience learn about the family’s dysfunctional design through the three daughters who are equally as far from each other in character and lifestyle. Tensions flair surrounding jobs, partners and old mistakes: while we are subject to the titular ‘Waiting’ for the news of mother’s surgery.
As grim as this all sounds the play is incredibly humorous and this comes from the dynamic that is created from the three sisters. I even found some of the dialogue and character traits reminiscent of my own sister and cousins. The bundled small talk that comes from being in an unfamiliar situation with people who are your flesh and blood, yet you seem so distant from them, is frighteningly realistic. This heightens the comedy as its common place to find humour in horrible situations when you don’t know how to cope or control what is going on around you.
…a methodical professional, is ultimately human at the end of the day…
The play is split up by a surgeon who speaks to unseen patients and families about their tumours, and as this continues there is a sense that although the story of the mothers tumour is continuing, the writer is highlighting that this is not just one story. Tumours and cancer can affect everyone and even the surgeon, a methodical professional, is ultimately human at the end of the day, as she breaks down over a patient dying in the final scenes of the play. Little hints from the smartest daughter about percentages of cancer detection and statistic are used in comedic ways, but ultimately are a nod to the audience that this situation they are watching is probably something they may go through. Perhaps I’m delving into this a little too much, but the play definitely resonated with me on my way home.
Alongside the three sisters are two performances that almost steal the limelight. An older patient and one of the sisters best friends Abby. Both arrive out of nowhere it seems, but their characters are so recognisable (in a good way) that they you just latch onto them and trust them wholeheartedly. Both reminded me of people I know and their comic timing was superb.
The Five Stages of Waiting is a complex play. Its success flows from the all-female cast who empower their characters with traits and personalities that are identifiable to the audience. It’s not easy making a story about tumours funny, but it works because the play knows when it’s time to be serious and when to break it with a laugh. My only problem with the show is that I expected some terrible twist to happen to the family, but alas I am a film fan and always expect the worst.
The Five Stages of Waiting is showing until the 9 August at the Tristan Bates Theatre Presented by Vertical Line Theatre in association with Greenwich Theatre as part of the 2014 Camden Fringe Festival at the TBT
Tickets are £12/£9
Images courtesy of Ahmed El-Alfy