The Waiting Room – Old Joint Stock, Birmingham

Reviewer: Selwyn Knight

Writer: Moon Kim

Director: Esalan Gates

In her discussion of the creative process for The Waiting Room, writer and performer Moon Kim explains that it was written “based on [her] own experiences” and how a growing understanding of Attachment Theory and attachment types helped her to identify “the real problems” through its lens. This reviewer can hardly claim any real knowledge of Attachment Theory beyond that which can be gleaned from a quick internet search, so cannot comment on the veracity of the piece academically. Nevertheless, one can’t help but relate to the subject matter of obsessive love.

At its core, Attachment Theory considers how a child’s attachment to caregivers develops up to the age of two and beyond, driven by their experiences and the way they are related to. Relationships in later life, and how we relate to significant others, can be impacted by these early experiences – and The Waiting Room aims to give us a glimpse into that in the case of Lemon (our protagonist).

The piece is split into five distinct parts, separated by electronic music and sound effects produced by Carina Cheung as well as physical movements as Lemon’s brain processes her situation. Each section is further differentiated by changing costumes. What is constant, however, is Lemon’s need to discuss the principal figures in her life – her friend, Cactus, and her mother.

Our journey finds Lemon in a surreal locked room. There’s a door, but she cannot open it and her annoyance at this grows into white-hot rage and questioning. Her significant others have all passed through this door never to return. She can imagine what might be beyond it, but her musings are fanciful and childlike.

The sequence in which a young Lemon waves a cheerful goodbye to her mother expecting a return that never happens is affecting. She becomes disturbed and the seeds for the anxious attachment she describes in her notes are sown. We see a childlike mind trying to comprehend what feels like abandonment and trying to be self-sufficient, with limited success.

The older Lemon experiences obsessive love for her friend Cactus, speaking of her with obviously deep-felt affection. But Cactus, too, seems to have abandoned Lemon in her locked room. Lemon’s description of her relationship with Cactus, a relationship in which Lemon relies on, and feeds off, Cactus’ approval; her obsession with every facet of Cactus’ character; her own issues of body image and self-esteem, is disjointed and heartfelt. Her despair at another abandonment turns to fear and rage. Will she ever find the key to the locked door?

The Waiting Room is not a “traditional” play; it’s confusing and Lemon’s attitudes and behaviour seem to be contradictory as she tries to cope with both obsession and abandonment – we’re on shifting sands, never quite sure which Lemon we’ll see next. There’s no coherent narrative thread – why would there be, we’re taking a stream-of-consciousness tour through the hidden areas of Lemon’s head. Nevertheless, the whole is affecting and the visceral emotions expressed by Lemon, her loves, obsessions, fear and anxiety transmit themselves to us. Kim is a consummate physical performer, her face and body clearly communicating Lemon’s inner turmoil. If there is a criticism, it’s that some sections could maybe be paced more tightly to avoid any possibility of a descent into self-indulgence.

There’s much food for thought here: Kim tells us she hopes she “can help young people in the early stages of their romantic relationships to recognise their emotional journeys”. Certainly, the audience was left deep in thought on this occasion: as Kim left the stage and the applause faded there was a collective pause of quiet reflection before our return to our own lives outside The Waiting Room.

Reviewed on 26 June 1024

The Reviews Hub Score

Food for thought

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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