THE DEAD WAIT
by Paul Herzberg.
Park Theatre (Park 200) Clifton Terrace Finsbury Park N4 3JP To 1 December 2013.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat & Sun 3pm.
Runs 2hr One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7870 6876.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 9 November.
Once the symbols are set up, a tense drama gets going.
Though it’s a very serious play, Paul Herzberg’s The Dead Wait is built round a complex of puns. A dead character waits two decades for the resolution he’d sought. The man who kills him carries him like a dead weight both realistically, as Black freedom fighter George, wounded in one leg, is carried back to the White base for interrogation, and metaphorically as an emblem of guilt. Of the three men involved in the earlier time of 1989, where the first act is substantially set, the one with his finger on the trigger is the only one reluctant to have the gun fired.
In 1989, apartheid South Africa, alongside White Rhodesia, had for years been providing troops for Right-Wing guerrillas in countries like Angola. In a continent where race mattered supremely, young soldier Jack is also a champion sprinter, weighed down – again – by the figure of George, who emerges at the start from his grave to straddle his shoulders.
Officially South Africa was not involved in the Angolan conflict. There’s unreality too in the men’s journey across the kilometres towards camp which, on Simon Scullion’s set, crosses a bare, scorched earth, marked only by a grave-like hole and a similar-sized hillock where the body will be buried.
Realistically it makes the soldiers easy targets; realistically, too, the hardened officer’s repeated vanishing and reappearance at key moments, interrupting any contact between prisoner and escort, seems contrived. But the play’s success lies in matching its deliberate nudgings towards unreality with a firm grasp of the realistic psychologies of the three men.
It makes the shorter second part, where Papa Louw is reduced to a security job as he’s visited in modern times by a still guilt-ridden Jack, less dynamic for a time – though Austin Hardiman maintains throughout the sense of personal strength and conscience compromised by political demands.
But, without his authority, bark and bite, Herzberg’s previously visceral Papa becomes a less interesting character. Later, though, the strength of Maynard Ezlashi’s George is exemplified in his forceful, near-silent presence as his spirit receives satisfaction when his daughter (Adelayo Adedayo) finally reaches him.
Lily Jozana/Wamba Woman: Adelayo Adedayo.
George Jozana: Maynard Ezlashi.
Jack Gilmore: Austin Hardiman.
Papa Louw: Paul Herzberg.
Director: Joe Harmston.
Designer: Simon Scullion.
Lighting: Mike Robertson.
Sound/Composer: Matthew Bugg.
Costume: Holly Rose Henshaw.