If you talk to Theo Quantick, a second-year student at the University of St Andrews, he will probably tell you he is into films and wants to get into directing. It is fair to say, however, that a lot of people are into films – if I had a penny for every person who loved The Joker type of situation. To lump Theo in with the average community of film enthusiasts would be a severe underestimation, since very few of these end up dedicating two and a half years of time and money to be able to present a twenty-minute short film that they have written, directed, and produced on a big screen, and this is the considerable feat Theo Quantick achieved when he premiered ‘Waiting for O’ in St Andrews.
From the moment we showed up at the New Picture House Cinema, it was clear this was more than just a passion project; we were greeted by a red carpet and a photographer snapping pictures. On the sign above the screening room, the cinema red-dotted font blared out ‘Waiting for O.’ My friend commented to me that it was seeing the title up there that made this whole thing seem real. Admittedly, it was quite a juxtaposition to the Super Mario movie showing in the screen next door – although I am sure Jack Black wouldn’t shy from arguing his film was also inspired by Proust. Theo, composed but full of anticipation, as you would expect, watched everyone file into the theatre, where a hush descended over the audience as we were transported into the eerie, vibrant setting of ‘Waiting for O’.
As someone who entered the cinema with no idea what to expect from the film, coupled with my impending English exam floating ominously in the back of my mind, I was pleased to see the film would serve as revision for the second-year drama module – since it was partially inspired by Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (I would expect no less from a fellow English student). The opening credits were accompanied by a stunning sequence of film shots of a fairground, showcasing the work of cinematographer Danil ‘Rook’ Flewelling. The main action is set against the liminal space of a 24-hour chicken shop in which Lucky (Abigail Tibbs) – a clear reference to Beckett’s work – loudly makes tea throughout the entirety of the production. Against this backdrop, the snarky and intelligent Madison (Annalise Roberts), hot-headed yet directionless Tarragon (Lewis Howe), and rude and oblivious Yob (Edward Males) wait for O while engaging in fast-paced, cyclical dialogue that evokes the pervading sense of futility in Beckett’s Godot… can you tell I just wrote an essay on the text?
One of the many clever things about Theo’s production is the way in which he brings this motif of frustrated unimportance that is explored by Beckett into a modern context. The fairground intro suggests a desolate holiday resort, where the characters will spend the summer, giving the film a coming-of-age slant that evokes films that explore the all-too-familiar theme of teenage boredom. This is reinforced by sharp, colloquial dialogue that mimics conversations you would expect from disillusioned teenagers. Madison is writing her Oxford application and constantly gripes at Tarragon that he is distracting her (and reminds him of his relative unintelligence) whilst Tarragon spends most of the play griping about how much he wants a cigarette, and how their whole mission is pointless. The film thus explores different teenage anxieties: that of feeling too intellectual for the town in which you grew up, and that of having no idea what you want to do with your life. Yob complements the tension between Madison and Tarragon by offering comic relief in his insatiable hunger (literally) and lack of depth, provoking many laughs in the cinema with his self-absorbed one-liners that revolve primarily around his last or next meal.
The film ends where it began, back at the fairground, with tense shots of the trio on a rollercoaster. What does this represent? Is life a rollercoaster or, more aptly, a run-of-the-mill fairground ride? Like Beckett’s production, ‘Waiting for O’ is elusive in its meaning, with Theo reluctant to give a clear answer. In the Q&A following the screening, he focused heavily on the process that went into creating the film, talking about how the crew would work throughout the whole night to get perfect shots – further testament to the extensive effort put into the project. As a result, to gauge your own interpretation of the production, you will just have to watch it yourself and make up your own mind.