GOD'S WAITING ROOM / Karen Bartholomew

God’s Waiting Room is a darkly comic play that tells the story of Connie and Stella, two middle-aged sisters whose hospice-bound mother is at the brink of death from terminal cancer. The play focuses on the impact on the sisters’ relationship - apparently prickly at the best of times - of watching their mother die slowly and in agony. It explores how old sibling resentments, envies and tensions explode under the almost unbearable strain of dealing with their mother’s painful and undignified end. Reproaches and accusations fly between the two stressed women, struggling to juggle their own lives, families, partners and careers, with the need to be at their mother’s bedside. In their desperation to see an end to her anguish, Connie broaches the subject of assisted dying, to her sister’s initial horror.

These controversial and harrowing themes are explored through graphic and often very blackly humorous exchanges, frequently confronting unsavoury realities head-on, from the fall out (literally) of a leakage from stitches that reopen after an operation on their mother, to the taboo of wishing that their mother would die quickly and get it over with. The gallows humour permits the characters to express shocking, frightening emotions and thoughts that many would shrink from admitting. As Connie explains early on, humour “[is] how I cope”.

 The ethical questions surrounding assisted dying, which is still illegal in the UK despite numerous attempts to table a law to allow it (most recently in 2015), are baldly expressed in the sisters’ exchanges, suggesting some of the anxieties and misapprehensions that swirl around this most contested of debates. The dilemma of how to give their mother what Connie calls “a kinder end” encourages us to interrogate who assisted dying is for, and who should be empowered to make those decisions. (RG)

God’s Waiting Room was performed 19th – 21st August at Etcetera Theatre as part of the 2016 Camden Fringe.

Theatre production company: https://www.facebook.com/motormouseproductions/

Charity campaigning for assisted dying: http://www.dignityindying.org.uk/

Not Dead Yet, a network of disabled people opposed to assisted dying:


Hospice care in the UK: https://www.mariecurie.org.uk/help/hospice-care

Clinical research into the benefits of humour in dealing with grief: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2646184/