Film Review: The Silent Waiting Room

Yesterday I was offered the opportunity to review a newly released, independent, short film. As I watched a run-through to see if I would be interested, it quickly became clear that this was not just a film but a work of art. Yes, I wanted to review it. My concern was that I should do such a creation justice.

‘The Silent Waiting Room’ was conceived, written and directed by Jack Ralls, who was also largely responsible for the editing. This talented young actor has appeared alongside Benedict Cumberbatch in the BBC’s crime drama, ‘Sherlock’. He has also been a knight in ‘Merlin’ and has had roles in ‘Doctor Who’ and ‘Casualty’.

In this short film he plays Jerry, one of four friends living out their afterlife through silent movies which allow them to to re live their golden years as actors. Jerry, however is drawn to his wife, Grace, still in the living world, thus breaking the facade of the romantic play in which they try to continue.

The film is presented in black and white with an accompanying, hauntingly beautiful soundtrack. It makes use of techniques from the hey day of silent films, with clever use of light, shadow, flickering celluloid and stills, artfully employed to evoke the appropriate atmosphere and emotion.

A chase scene makes use of classic, humorous techniques, with protagonists running through a variety of settings including fields, parks, streets, and steps; going unseen when a back is turned, hiding an implausible number of people in a basket. The locations, which are all in and around Bristol, are cleverly juxtaposed to facilitate flow and variety, with characters moving too and fro seamlessly.

In such a short space of time the film offers menace, threat, humour and pathos. The most moving scenes are when those in the afterlife visit the still living, their now elderly partners who are still to join them. The juddering, merging of black and white with colour works perfectly, treasured photographs explaining who is who.

Although I guess I could see it coming, the denouement still had me in tears, not something that I succumb to easily. What a lovely thought that the frail and elderly may return to their prime and join those they love, that death is another beginning.

The whole idea behind this film appealed, that there is an afterlife where we may meet up with friends and loved ones to have some fun. In this life we are well aware of the feelings of loss that a death produces, it was interesting to consider that those who go before us may also feel bereft until we join them.

Jack Ralls was obviously key in the making of this film, but there were many others who provided the talent required to bring this project to life. None of the actors, artists, musicians or supporting crew should be overlooked. When a work that is so aesthetically pleasing is brought to my attention I realise how much I take for granted when being entertained. Art such as this deserves wider recognition and appreciation.

Have I piqued your interest? If so then get yourself a cup or glass of your favourite beverage, settle yourself on a comfy chair, and indulge in fifteen minutes of pleasure. This sublime film should be seen and shared, enjoy.


First Night Nerves

Last night was my first shift on the Front of House volunteer rota at the wonderful theatre I will be helping out at over the coming months. To say that I was a little nervous would be an understatement. As with any new job, my first day was filled with introductions, instructions and explanations that can be hard to remember fully. What is needed is experience of carrying out the tasks to allow repetition to lodge the information firmly in memory to be recalled without thinking. This can only be achieved over time.

The tasks that I was required to complete were not arduous but they were new, and I have never attempted to do anything like this before. It is a long time since I have chosen to put myself this far out of my comfort zone.

I calm my nerves and build my resolve to succeed by preparing as best I can beforehand. Thus I spent some time yesterday afternoon sorting through the little things that I could anticipate may be issues. I dislike driving, particularly when I am not familiar with the area or when traffic is busy. I live in a rural village whereas the theatre is seventeen miles away in the nearest city. When I go there I will often catch a train to avoid the need to drive, but this is not always possible late at night when scheduled train services are few and far between.

When I have driven in the past I have always parked my car in the same place simply because I know where the car park is. The parking charges are high here however, so I spent yesterday researching alternatives and, having found a couple of viable options, carefully planned and memorised the route so that I could navigate on my own in busy traffic. I know that most people take this sort of thing in their stride; I do not.

Having prepared the family dinner and left my daughter to serve it up, I departed feeling very on edge. It was a beautiful, sunny evening and the drive was, thankfully, trouble free. I found my way through the maze of streets and one way systems without difficulty. Although traffic was heavy I was not bothered by aggressive tailgaters, impatient to get me out of their way. The car park appeared where expected and spaces were available. The first challenge of the evening had been accomplished.

I had a little time before the pre show staff meeting to check out the best route from theatre to car park. I expected it to be dark when I emerged from the show so wished to walk on lit and busy paths. In the event I was released at dusk; the joys of these long, summer days. There were still plenty of people around so I was comfortable on my journey which was a welcome, short, pleasant and relaxing stroll after the challenges of the evening.

So, what did my evening entail? Arriving at the theatre I found everything shut off, as I should have anticipated, to prevent members of the public entering before show time. I should have just walked in, but made the mistake of asking the staff at the booking desk if I may do so. They had never heard of the volunteer scheme and told me to wait outside, taking me to be a member of the audience. They were busy and disinterested in the explanation I attempted to give.

I dithered before deciding that I couldn’t be late on my first night. Gathering my courage as best I could I walked through and round the barrier into a room full of Front of House staff just as the meeting began. Although I received a few curious looks I was not challenged and, at a suitable moment in the briefing, was introduced. It was a relief to be expected by the manager giving the briefing who then took me in hand to ensure that I knew what to do and where to be throughout the evening.

From there my job began. Of the dozen or so people I was introduced to I remember barely a couple of names; I have never been good at remembering names. At first I felt foolish standing in the foyer greeting strangers, checking their tickets and ensuring that they knew how to find their way to their seats. It helped though that all the people I encountered throughout the evening were friendly and polite, if a little curious. This volunteer experiment is as new for the theatre as it was for me.

The show itself, Bernard Shaw’s Candida, was very enjoyable. Part of my job is to ensure that the audience abide by the rules, particularly as regards photography, and to check that nobody becomes unwell or requires assistance during the performance. Watching the audience watching the show meant that I was unable to immerse myself fully in the play as I normally would. However, I was able to appreciate the skill of the players even if I missed some of the nuances of the dialogue.

I was particularly impressed with Christopher Godwin, who was playing Mr Burgess. He was on stage having had 48 hours to learn the part (including opening night) following the unexpected, sudden departure of the original member of the cast due to family illness. He fully deserved the extra applause he was given at curtain call.

I felt rather foolish walking the designated route around the theatre during the interval to allow myself to be seen by the audience as other staff members carried out their tasks in the bars and selling tubs of ice cream. As I was called upon several times for information this must have been of some use to the patrons. I am so unused to putting myself in a position where I need to be seen; normally I prefer invisibility.

Overall then, I enjoyed the experience and feel that I fulfilled the purpose for which I was taken on. I gained a better understanding of how the smooth cogs of a working theatre are oiled to enable patrons to relax and enjoy their experience. I also got to meet some lovely people and to watch the show; all the reasons why I took on this role were ticked.

Having handed back my staff badge and distinguishing shoulder bag, I collected my things and returned to my car. The main road that I use to travel into the city was by this time closed due to roadworks, so I had to find my way home by an alternative route. This stressed me a little (I am such a wuss) but was accomplished without incident. I arrived home to a silent house with all my family retired peacefully to bed.

Due to forthcoming family holidays, my next night ‘on duty’ is a month away. Next time should be easier as there will be fewer unknowns. I am looking forward to it already.

The Georgian terrace of Royal Crescent (Bath, ...

Arts appreciation

I have attempted to learn to play various musical instruments over the course of my life. At a young age my father taught me the basics on the piano. Although I enjoyed playing, I did not practice enough to progress much. I still enjoy tinkering on this instrument, and still do not play often enough to improve.

In primary school I learnt to play the cornet. Playing in the school band was fun, but carrying a heavy, brass instrument on the walk to and from school put me off continuing to learn when I moved to secondary school. Instead I chose to take up a small and light woodwind instrument, the oboe. I continued with this for seven years, passing all of the graded exams as well as music ‘O’ level. I considered working for my diploma whilst at university but was advised by my music teacher that, although I was technically competent, I showed little musical talent. This feedback was enough to persuade me to give the instrument up.

As a teenager I was involved in a lot of church groups. I learnt the basics of acoustic guitar so that I could play along to the rousing songs that we sang at meetings. Once again, I enjoyed taking part but showed little aptitude for the instrument. By the time I moved to England my career in musical performance, such as it had been, came to an end. I left the cheap guitar at my parent’s house where it warped and fell apart, traded in the beautiful French oboe that my father had bought me for a keyboard, and used this to encourage my children to learn to make their own music. My boys now play the piano and viola; my daughter listens more than performs.

My father’s beautiful piano playing was the soundtrack to my childhood. This, alongside my own experiences of playing in various bands and orchestras, led to me gaining an appreciation of classical music. My elder son is now showing a similar interest in this genre and we have managed to attend a couple of concerts this year together. My son often gets exasperated with me so I welcome these opportunities to spend time together doing something that we can both value and discuss.

As well as classical music, my son enjoys many of the books that I read and has recently shown an interest in theatre. I love the theatre. Again, I have my father to thank for introducing me to the variety of shows available when I was a teenager.

When my children were younger I would take them to see the popular musicals being performed in London’s West End. My sons showed little interest at this age, but my daughter enjoyed the outings and we went to quite a number of shows together over the years. She attended a weekend stage school when she was younger, has taken part in various school productions and studied drama for her recent GCSEs.

My trips to the theatre have sometimes been in the company of an old friend of mine who is a theatre critic for one of the national newspapers and editor of a magazine that publishes theatre reviews. It is quite a different experience attending a show on press night with an expert rather than for pure entertainment with family. It can, however, be frustrating being unable to discuss the performance afterwards as my friend will not share his views prior to having them published!

I do not attend as many shows as I would like due to the cost of the tickets. When I took my children to see the critically acclaimed ‘War Horse’ in London, which we all enjoyed immensely, it cost over £200 before transport and food. Such an outing can only be a rare treat.

Earlier this month I was lucky enough to be offered free tickets to a show at a more local theatre. I had been given two tickets and both my elder son and my daughter wished to accompany me. As I had taken my son to see an adaptation of a book we had both read and enjoyed recently (deadkidssongs), as well as to the classical concerts, I opted to have my daughter accompany me. The play, ‘Fifty Words’, was fabulous and made me determined to attend more theatre if I could.

With this in mind, I applied for a role I saw advertised to be a volunteer host at the theatre where the recent shows had been performed. I feel quite thrilled that I have been accepted and will attend a training session next week. I am also rather nervous. I do not normally put myself forward in this way, but the opportunity to become more involved in the running of a professional theatre is too good to miss.

My elder son’s reaction when he heard that I had applied for this role was rather negative as it is unpaid. He often berates me for not going out to work. My daughter has, however, been much more encouraging. I suspect that she observes how I spend my days and worries that she may one day be a housewife and mother, required to spend her time doing a lot of mundane chores rather than having fun. When I prove that I can do things just for me it gives her hope!

The cost of tickets for theatre shows and concerts is off putting for many and means that funding for the arts can be a controversial issue. When money is tight there is an argument that tax payers should not be subsidising endeavours that can only be afforded by the already wealthy. In many ways I have sympathy with this view but I also think that, as a society, we need the arts to nourish our souls. The industry generates revenue in terms of employment and spending both directly and in so many supporting sectors such as transport, accommodation and food provision (Arts and culture worth more than £850m to UK export trade). It is about so much more than just money though.

The arts are not a commodity, they are an experience that enrich our lives beyond measure. Drama may be enjoyed live, at cinemas or on television. The plethora of genres of music offer sustenance for all, from babies acting out ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ to the elderly reliving the happy memories triggered by a dance hall song or a Rodgers and Hammerstein soundtrack.

I look forward to the opportunity that I have been presented with to expand my knowledge of the arts and to experience the drama that a theatre can provide both on and off the stage. In taking on this new challenge I am stepping outside my comfort zone, but look forward so much to entering the periphery of a world that I have long admired from afar.

A trumpet, foreground, a piccolo trumpet behin...