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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The Dead Wait
Park Theatre  Autumn 2013

Paul Herzberg's drama tells a familiar and predictable story, giving it new texture and resonances through the specific setting in which it is placed. 

In wartime a young soldier is put in charge of a captured enemy. Over time the two men bond, and then the lad is ordered to kill his prisoner. Years later he continues to be haunted by all aspects of the experience. 

By setting the main body of the play during South Africa's secret involvement in the Angola civil war of the 1980s, with the young soldier an English South African, his commander a Boer and the prisoner black, Herzberg turns the specific story into as multi-levelled metaphor for old and new South Africa, with things to say about the failures and lingering reality of the former and the limits of reconciliation and change in the latter. 

On the one hand, we are reminded that those who went along with the way things were share guilt and responsibility with the open reactionaries and racists, while on the other we see that forgiving and forgetting cannot be achieved through government fiat and that the burdens of guilt and anger will continue to be carried at least through the lives of present generations. 

That metaphor of the burden carried is central to the play, because the prisoner is badly wounded and the young soldier has to carry him on his back through all the wartime scenes.

(Another, less successful metaphor makes the soldier a champion sprinter in civilian life, with the implication that he will never be able to move quickly or unhindered again.) 

In effect, then, a not particularly strong fiction takes all its meanings from the historical context, and without that borrowed power would have too little to hold our attention. 

Joe Harmston's production is uneven, with solid if predictable performances by Maynard Eziashi as the prisoner and the playwright himself as the officer, but something of a hole in the centre as Austin Hardiman has difficulty finding the character of the young soldier or his twenty-year-older self.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  The Dead Wait - Park Theatre 2013

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