The Lead Wait

Te Whaea - The Garage, 11 Hutchison Rd, Newtown, Wellington

06/09/2006 - 11/06/2006

Production Details

Written by Jo Randerson & Trouble
Directed by Harriette Cowan

‘People don’t always say what they mean. People don’t always know what they mean.’ – Jo Randerson

The Man arrives on the doorstep after having been gone for 6 years. He has been walking all this time. Over the course of the evening a meal is shared and each in turn has a bath. The bath water gets colder and dirtier cleverly mimicking the rising tensions and hidden ugly truths seeping out to an eminent confrontation.

Ryan Okane as Leon
Simon Smith as Ian
Kylie O’Callaghan as Juliet
Brian Hotter as ‘The Man'

Theatre ,

1 hr 40 mins, no interval

Absorbing ultra-naturalism

Review by John Smythe 06th Sep 2006

It’s a long wait, at The Lead Wait, until the subterranean forces that skulk, troubled, beneath the surface of daily life at last erupt in dramatic climax. This is finally brought to a head (a small one) when a hole is dug beneath the floorboards of the semi-built country house inhabited a brother, a sister, their flatmate and – on the night the action takes place – the sister’s ex-lover, who suddenly returns after a silent absence of seven years.

Meanwhile, as relationships fester and mysteries lurk in the shadows, each character takes a bath (some metaphorically as well as literally), washing is folded, a meal is prepared, cooked and consumed, and a number of stories are told, some real, one just a joke, another a parable …

When the Jo Randerson-written/Trouble-devised and produced play premiered at BATS in 1997, the functional innards of the skeletal house and minutiae of the real-time action made the medium the ‘massage’, somewhat. Now, when ultra-naturalism is not so new and fashionable, holding the interest and underlying tension is arguably a greater challenge.

Director Harriette Cowan, mounting The Lead Wait as her MTA* major production, meets the challenge admirably, in a set – designed by Matt Kleinhans and lit by Kylke Potter – which functions very realistically except (small detail) there is no toilet roll in the bathroom. And if butter was used instead of oil to cook the fish, maybe we’d smell it (a strong memory from ’97).

The actors absorb us into their world by inhabiting their roles and relationships with total conviction: Ryan Okane’s Leon is mean and thoughtless as his obsessive hole-digging consumes his waking moments; Simon Smith as the flatmate Ian, a put-upon loser, is hypersensitive and his own worst enemy; Kylie O’Callaghan’s dead-inside Juliet might never move on but suggests that where there is anger there’s hope; Brian Hotter as ‘The Man’, is over it now and ready to move on, except he is back and it’s not only up to him …

That we never find out exactly what happened seven years ago – or rather how the tragic event occurred (I won’t give it away) – probably seemed like a good idea at the time but it seems an affectation now. It’s fine to build up our appetite for ‘the truth’, or some version of it, but I see no value in leaving us grasping for basic facts when our focus should be on whether or not it was really an accident, and what to therefore make of how each character has behaved in the years between, let alone how they’re behaving now

While these problems are endemic to the play, a tendency toward ultra-naturalistic line delivery means words and phrases get lost, and the audience is in danger of thinking they’ve missed something that isn’t actually there.

Again (as with Squatter) the director is to be congratulated on choosing a challenging New Zealand play to ‘come out’ with. What’s in it for us, apart from observing new talent at work and welcoming it, is the rare opportunity to revisit an important part of our homegrown theatre history. And of course the core themes, of good v bad, kindness v meanness, loss v recovery, individual v community are as apt now as they ever were.

*MTA = Master of Theatre Arts (in directing)


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