Can't Wait To Leave - credit Vaneet Mehta.

Can’t Wait To Leave at Waterloo East Theatre

As Can’t Wait To Leave begins, Ryan is sitting in a hospital waiting room. He looks bemused and a little traumatised as babies cry in the background. What’s happened to Ryan to bring him there? Is he waiting to be seen? Is he waiting for someone else? Ryan stands and addresses the audience and proceeds to take us on the journey that has brought him to a cold, unwelcoming hospital waiting room.

Can't Wait To Leave - credit Vaneet Mehta.
Can’t Wait To Leave – credit Vaneet Mehta.

Ryan (Zach Hawkins) is a 19-year-old, somewhat naïve, bicycle delivery rider living in a grungy flat share in London. He’s come to the big city because his successful accountant brother lives there and Ryan wants to be near him. Ryan is also bi-sexual although he hasn’t come out to his family. In a bar where his brother announces he’s leaving London to start a new life with his pregnant partner, Ryan meets Richard, an older gay man, who seems all wrong for the Candide-like Ryan and is manipulative, coercing at it seems, and overly aggressive. Along the way we meet the various characters in Ryan’s life, some important, some not so much but they’re all part of Ryan’s coming of age in the big, uncompromising city before we find out what has brought him to the hospital waiting room.

Stephan Leach’s debut play touches on a number of subjects such as mental health, relationships, dealing with abusive behaviour and manipulation. He tells Ryan’s story deftly with a dry wit that gives us a three-dimensional protagonist who, unlike some plays on a similar theme, isn’t just a cipher. Leach also directs which can be a mistake as a second pair of eyes and ears can often see things the author can’t but in this case, it seems to work really well. However as good as Leach’s writing and direction is, he needed someone to bring Ryan to life and in Zach Hawkins, he’s struck gold. Hawkins is endearing and engaging and with his open, expressive face, we feel Ryan’s pain – both physical and metaphorical. He looks right and sounds right and he takes the audience with him on his journey and we’re happy to go along with him.

Aiding and abetting Leach and Hawkins is some excellent lighting and sound design from Gareth McLeod. The lighting is fairly simple but it has to convey various locations as well as the cold austere waiting room, there’s Ryan’s flat, a bar and a night club and this is helped by various sound effects that take us to those locations. There are also some voiceovers of various characters that Ryan meets along the way but as Hawkins is an excellent mimic, these seem a little superfluous.

Can’t Wait To Leave is a superbly written and superbly performed piece of theatre. If I had one small piece of creative criticism is that at nearly ninety minutes, it’s a shade too long – it sags a little in the middle and becomes somewhat repetitive and a trim would make it a bit more focused and keep the pace up.

Can’t Wait To Leave is only having a short run at Waterloo East so let’s hope it has a longer life somewhere else as it deserves to be seen by a bigger audience.

4 Stars

Review by Alan Fitter

Meet Ryan. 19 (but young for his age). School drop-out (but smart). Turkey sandwich enthusiast (365 days a year). Absolute stunner (no addendum).

He’s new in town, and all he wants to do is check out. The hard part is coming up with an exit plan.

When the one person he thought he could rely on ups and leaves, Ryan finds himself adrift in a city he still hasn’t learned to like, looking for direction. Six months to kill, no money, no rules… surely this is the worst possible time to be alone?

That’s when he meets Richard, who seems to have all the answers…

Fierce, razor-sharp, and uncompromisingly honest, Can’t Wait To Leave is a bitingly frank portrayal of loneliness and self-discovery from a phenomenal new talent.

Zach Hawkins | Ryan
Zoe Boyd | voiceover
Joe Idris-Roberts | voiceover

Can’t Wait To Leave
by Stephen Leach
21 – 26 Feb 2023

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