Set in Northern Ireland some time in the 1980’s, this intense two-hander is just 30 minutes long, yet successfully tells a complex and challenging tale. While other plays focus on tensions between the two communities – or on the often-questionable conduct of the security forces – The Wait highlights an aspect of the Troubles we hear about less often: the way that some people used the culture of violence as a way to settle private scores.

At the centre of the story is Maura, a hard-drinking matriarch who’s fiercely proud of her husband and her sons – proud like any mother is, but proud in particular of their defiance of the British state. Let’s make no bones about it: they’re terrorists, a fact the script presents unadorned for us to interpret as we will. But Maura’s world has crumbled; she’s putting up the Christmas tree, but the family gathering will be smaller this year. A man with an unfamiliar accent is calling on the phone… and across the street, she thinks she can see someone watching her.

The cast is different on different days, but for the performance I attended, Jennifer Kehl was compelling as Maura. At first she seems tough and spiky – but as the whiskey slips down, she slides oh-so-subtly into dependence and despair. She implores her son, played by Oliver Prose, to pour her one more drink; he, hauntingly, begs her to learn to live in the present. They quarrel, an argument born of love, but there is something else – something darker – that someone’s hiding.

It’s an impressive debut script from playwright William Whalen, revealing the story in measured doses. He repeatedly wrong-foots us, as assumptions are disproved and the many layers of the back-story are slowly peeled away. There’s no big reveal, just a gentle reshuffling of what we think we know, as new facts are dropped into the mother and son’s highly believable dialogue.

On a few occasions, though, I felt that Whalen overestimated our ability to bridge those gaps. If you don’t already know what the Kesh was, or what it means to call someone a prod, or – perhaps most crucially – that paramilitaries from both communities used extreme violence to “police” their own, then I suspect you’ll find large parts of the storyline tricky to unravel. And even I lost the thread at the very end; I knew what had been done but not who had done it, and I don’t think that ambiguity was intended.

There’s much to think about after seeing The Wait, and it’s an affecting performance from a highly committed cast. 30 minutes is the right length for this particular scene, but it’s still all too fleeting; I’d love to see this subject – and this family – explored further in a full-length play.