Tori sits at home, waiting – waiting to feel better. Something's happened; something that's pushed her over the edge, driven her to retreat to a place she feels safe and close the door behind her. Her friends and family visit, but the defences she's built around herself prove difficult to breach. Yet there's hope; hope of a recovery, an inner light that hasn't quite gone out, the chance that Tori will step out of the darkness and embrace the world around her once again.
Waiting is unashamedly an issue play, and the issue it addresses is a timely one. Though mental illness is no longer a taboo subject in theatre, few works address the process of recovery – the fact that, while some conditions are sadly intractable, the majority of people with troubles in their life can and do get better. I need to declare an interest here: I was badly depressed in my early twenties, and I'm strong and healthy now. Everyone's story is different, and Tori's problems are more complex than mine were, but her journey is – in its fundamentals – my own.
As Tori, Stella Gage delivers a sensitive, insightful performance, which ably embodies a strange dilemma I remember from those times: the conviction that nothing can really help you, matched against the survival instinct which urges you to find a way. Surrounding Gage is a large cast playing friends, family and medical professionals, and as we watch how Tori both embraces and kicks against them, we learn how different types of person can help in different ways at different times. Sometimes Tori needs to be loved and comforted; but sometimes, if we're honest, she needs a kick up the backside, from the friend who cares about her deeply but doesn't sympathise too much.
Tori's inner turmoil has no simple cause, but it does have a couple of recent triggers – events we learn about through a mix of flashbacks, conversations, and description from Tori herself. The story's revealed slowly, hints at the truth emerging one by one, until finally we gain at least some understanding of the forces which have driven her to seek refuge away from the world. If you've ever sat down with a friend and gently teased out what's troubling them, then you'll recognise and sympathise with this slow and delicate process. It's a highly personal and human experience given a fitting theatrical form.
Being objective, there are some weaknesses in the performance; the dialogue at times felt obviously rehearsed, and the emotional connections between the characters were things I deduced rather than sensed. Tori's verbal jousting with a counsellor was a little too cute and smart-mouthed to ring true to me, and as someone who's been on both sides of this difficult situation, I'd have liked to see a little more of the impact on Tori's friends. There is a storyline here, and plenty of character development – but there isn't all that much drama.
But being objective isn't always right. Waiting will speak to a particular group of people: those who've walked the road Tori is travelling, and those who've stood beside them. It's an effective evocation of something almost impossible to explain, and an important contribution to the discussion of mental wellbeing that's gathering pace at this year's Fringe. It's time we gathered round and told these stories: stories of support, stories of recovery – stories like mine.