Waiting for Gandalf review: “nearly moved me to tears”

By Tom Pymer

I’m an emotional person, but there are very few plays which so nearly moved me to tears as Waiting For Gandalf. From the title, you might expect Waiting For Gandalf to be a comedy, and in part it is. The only character (unless you count the life-size cardboard cut-out of Gandalf, which makes for a simple but surprisingly effective set) is the slightly nerdish Kevin, brilliantly played by Chris Neville-Smith. The play begins with Kevin waiting outside a bookshop for Gandalf to arrive to sign his copy of a behind-the-scenes guide of The Two Towers. Kevin is completely obsessed with Lord of the Rings to a degree that is vaguely comic. Although, it is relatively obvious early on that there is much more involved here than one might think.

Neville-Smith brilliantly encapsulates the character of a man who is nervous, shaky and slightly neurotic. His obsession with Lord of the Rings is described as a sort of drug addiction. He admits the number of times he’s watched the films in a hushed whisper. He plays Kevin with a slightly child-like voice which encapsulates this obsession even better, as well as numerous nervous tics such as repeatedly tugging at a ring on his finger, even though the whole story behind the ring didn’t unfold until much much later. The stutter Neville-Smith gives Kevin emphasises his insecurity and the fact that he has something to hide.

Perhaps Neville-Smith’s greatest triumph is how very easy it is to empathise with his character. It is impossible not to feel tied up with Kevin’s tragic story and the feelings that he expresses towards all the people he talks about. If there is one criticism I had to give, it would be that Neville-Smith perhaps overacts slightly. Occasionally, the talk is a little too structured. However, this is really a minor criticism and it completely vanishes as the play goes on. By the end, there is no indication of any acting discrepancy at all.

Attention must be drawn to the script. Written by Adrian Marks, it is full of rambling anecdotes and stories. It would be inaccurate to say that one thing flows into the next; one of the marvels about it is how all-over-the-place it is. It is a series of anecdotes from Kevin’s life and it is not clear how it all fits together until the very end. However, when all these threads come together at the end, they do so with an elegance and a style which is beautiful.

A brief word must be also given to the lighting and sound. A simple spotlight made for an excellent effect, as did a soundtrack which was predominantly streets noises, interwoven with The Lord of the Rings soundtrack and music.

Later on in the play, it becomes frankly heart-breaking. Themes of jealousy, pressure, and unfairness came to the fore to present a message which is extremely powerful. I am hesitant to give away too much of the plot, but if you research the work that Mankind does (which I would strongly encourage you to do), you will perhaps guess the ending and understand what I mean when I say that there is a sort of mystery that slowly unfolds throughout the story, involving a few dreadful events by someone everyone else considered a hero, a strong healer figure (represented by the figure of Gandalf) and, thankfully, a moment of resolution right at the end. Waiting For Gandalf has an unpleasant story behind the bumbling and loveable main character, but it is not a story without hope.

Waiting For Gandalf heads to Brighton later this year. I wish them the very best of luck with the rest of their run and hope that it touches as many people as it touched me.

Photography: The Waiting for Gandalf Production Team

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