Presented by Adelaide Festival Centre
Reviewed 30 Oct 2018
Set in Damascus in 2015, While I Was Waiting portrays a family – and a country -in limbo. After Taim is savagely beaten and left in a coma, his relatives and loved ones try to piece together the circumstances surrounding his beating, and to decide how to move on with their lives. As the narrative advances, it transpires that Taim was himself searching for meaning amid Syria’s civil war by making a film that told the story of that conflict through the lens of his own complicated family history.
The two-tiered stage allows Taim and his friend Omar, who is also in a state of limbo, to look down at the world of the living. But while they occasionally try to interact with their family and friends, they can only address the audience. Through these two worlds, playwright Mohammad Al Attar addresses the wider political context of the conflict as well as providing an insight into the way it affects everyday lives.
The action is at times stilted and the English surtitles are noticeably abridged, frustratingly so at times – it is unclear whether Omar is a prisoner or dead, for instance – but the stories are deeply affecting.
Those left in the land of the living are lost, torn between remaining by Taim’s side and moving on, and each blame themselves for what happened to him. Their struggles and petty familial conflicts are a vivid reminder that beyond the news reels, there are millions of individual dramas still playing out in Syria.
The live action is interspersed with footage from the early stages of the uprising, ostensibly shot by Taim for his film. It portrays Syria at a time when there was hope for change, a powerful force that propelled vast portions of the nation into various forms of resistance and provides some of the production’s most powerful moments.
As that initial impulse diminished, a range of political and religious forces co-opted the message, a development addressed by the two men above the stage, and over time that hope slowly faded.
While I Was Waiting is now almost four years old and depicts a country at a loss, but one with hope. Now nearing the end of its run, the cast revealed at the post-show Q&A that any hope that remained in 2015 has since been lost and most of them have fled the country. The play ends more inconclusively, a time capsule that takes the audience into a space that most of us have very little access to.
Reviewed by Alexis Buxton-Collins