While We’re Here at Tobacco Factory Theatres

‘I feel walled in’, While We’re Here commentates on the monotony of the mundane and describes that sense that we are merely filling the time we have until we die. Andrew French (Eddie) describes it as  the ‘yawning chasm of life’, and through the beige set, descriptions of tv series and mundane work, we are introduced to Carol (Tessa Peake-Jones). Describing her day she comments; ‘I’ve been under some stress lately…. I cried when there was no one in the IT dept to help me, they were at lunch!’

A chance meeting brings the two characters back into each other’s lives. As they catch up on the past 20yrs we begin to see the chasms that exist for both characters but for totally different reasons. Carol, in her fifties, lives a solitary life, her husband left some years ago, her daughter is busy living her live, and she lives in the same house that she has lived in all her life. She moved away once but she didn’t like it so she returned home.

Home is something that seems to have eluded Eddie. Fostered as a kid, Nigerian by birth but raised in Portsmouth, he describes a sense of always searching for something and never feeling he has found it. Living rough, having lost everything he states he knew that Carol would still be here. Carol offers him a place to stay and we observe their relationship as they live alongside each other after all these years.

One has nothing to show for their life but the few carrier bags of papers that Eddie carries with him whilst Carol contradicts herself by saying that having a house isn’t all it is cracked up to be, ‘it makes you a target for burglaries’ and then concludes that she is pleased she has somewhere to call home.

‘Was there hope within the play?’, one of the questions posed to the play’s writer Barney Norris, during the post performance q&a. Commenting on her character Carol, Tessa Peake-Jones empathetically recalls the connections and near misses that run throughout the play. Seemingly an unlikely couple the pair dance around the will they or won’t they rekindle what they had some 20yrs ago. There is also hope in the persistence in Eddie’s approach to life, yearning to life live now but flip flopping between hope and despair as his mental health and lack of support is documented.

Norris and Alice Hamiliton (Director) discussed that as the play has evolved they have sought to strip it back and in this version they have removed scenes and characters so that the audience see the characters within the ‘walled in’ living room of Carol’s house.

Yet for me it was over too quickly! Being drawn into their story I was left feeling like I wanted to know more about their history. The actors created characters you felt compassion for and were compelled to observe. There was the right amount of light and shade with some comic moments.  Their portrayal of the characters’ relationship, the body language and non-verbal cues complemented the script and really brought the characters to life.

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