Dunstan Playhouse
Until 31 Oct 2018

Review by Anthony Vawser

Festivals such as OzAsia can provide extraordinarily valuable opportunities to broaden one’s cultural awareness and experience wonderful theatre at the same time. It is an inherent privilege here in Adelaide to welcome artists from such areas of the globe as Syria, places where theatre can flourish despite the threat of war and unrest.

The creative team behind “While I Was Waiting” aim to powerfully connect Syrian people with the rest of the world, but while the show’s very existence – and its arrival on our shores – is something to be glad for, this reviewer is not wholly enamoured of the finished product, feeling it falls short of its noble ambitions, despite some undeniably fine ingredients and impressive elements.

Central to the experience is the character of Taim, a 30-year-old man put into a coma after being brutally beaten under mysterious circumstances at one of the security checkpoints widespread in Syria’s capital of Damascus. Intended as a metaphor for the war-ravaged nation, Taim’s comatose body hovers between life and death, as the loved ones around his hospital bed hope to be delivered from their despair…

Mohammad Al Attar’s text – seemingly fractured in chronology as well as perspective – does possess the quality of seeming like a re-telling of true events (though there is no direct indication in information provided about the show that this is in fact the case). At its best, “While I Was Waiting” seizes one’s attention in the manner of a story that, regardless of its literal truth or otherwise, is worth telling – and listening to – because of its believability and its urgency.

However, the arresting moments in this show add up to about an hour at the very most, while ninety minutes is the full running time, and the extra breathing space mostly feels like slackness and padding, rather than an opportunity taken to add extra psychological complexity and nuance. The direction from Omar Abusaada leans more toward understatement than urgency, but while a number of scenes achieve a satisfyingly simmering level of tension and intrigue – helped by a number of nicely pitched performances – the production as a whole tends to drift along a little too calmly for its own good.

The fascinating and fraught history of Syria undoubtedly has the potential to yield a truly great stage production, but “While I Was Waiting” does not, in the end, quite manage to fit that description.