“Do you think we will ever get out of here?” It is a question, asked in earnest, by a brave and resilient man, terrified of what may happen to him.
Frank McGuinness’s hostage drama, Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me, garnered a clutch of awards when it was first staged 23 years ago, and Chichester Theatre’s revival, which opened on its Minerva stage tonight, should see it gather more.
Compelling, powerful and deeply emotional, the drama is a tribute to the courage of those who have been snatched and held hostage by terrorists.
And, in light of the horrors still occurring in the Middle East, it is a story as relevant now as when it was written.
It was inspired by the John McCarthy & Brian Keenan capture of the 1980s and McGuinness promised a released Keenan that he wouldn’t put the play out until John McCarthy was finally freed.
The playwright has chosen to create a new trio of men – Irish journalist Edward, American doctor, Adam, and a terribly English Brit called Michael to share his dungeon cell for the duration.
They triumph over adversity by refusing to surrender their respect and dignity to their unseen captors. The trio may be chained to the floor, and deprived of daylight, but they can escape the walls of their confinement through their indomitable spirit, humour and imaginations.
And that knows no bounds. There’s imaginary tennis matches and meetings with the queen, nights drunk on vodka martinis, driving over England in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and playing the guest on Desert Island Discs.
There are moments when each of the men begin to falter and have to be brought back by the others. They are all terrified in their own way, each fearing the future, not knowing if they will live or die.
But despite their confinement and the awfulness of their ordeal, there is a huge amount of comedy in this story as the men’s different personalities brings out the best, and the worst, in each other.
Adam (Adam Rayner) has been in the room the longest. He reads the Bible and the Koran hoping for answers and understanding, does a lot of press-ups to keep fit, and is moody and reflective.
He has formed a close bond with Ed (Rory Keenan), who arrived two months later. Edward is a stereotypical Irishman, loud, bawdy and provocative.
He is a dissolute husband and father with a line in coarse language and a flair for baiting the new boy.
That would be David Haig’s richly drawn English teacher, Michael, who really is a character-and-a-half. He’d make a great subject of a play all on his own.
He arrives mid-way through the first act, waking to find himself shackled and a prisoner – and he becomes hysterical, shaking violently, uncomprehending of what has happened to him.
But as the months roll by – is there anyone out there trying to free them? – they endure their hell with fortitude and bravery.
There’s films to discuss (a great scene with Adam and Ed slamming Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi made more comical by the fact that son Michael Attenborough is the play’s director); letters, that will never be posted, to loved ones; rows, recriminations, and reconciliations.
The most heartbreaking moment comes when the doughty Edward finally drops the pretence and breaks down while ‘talking’ to his estranged father. Keenan’s captivating performance brings a lump to your throat (and what a tremendous singer. An all-round engrossing performance).
You keep being drawn back to the educated and wholly innocent Michael. Haig is splendid in creating a believable and endearing little man who finds himself totally out of his depth.
One minute he is hunting through a market looking for pears to feed his dinner guests and the next he is facing an uncertain future.
While the other two joke and exchange insults, he quotes Middle English poetry and talks about how his mother is getting on with the new vicar.
All three men deliver profoundly moving, funny and intense performances in a beautifully directed story that is haunting and impressively told.
Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me runs in Chichester’s Minerva Theatre until October 10.
Compelling, powerful & deeply emotional, Some Who’ll Watch Over Me is a tribute to the courage of those held hostage. Profoundly moving performances in a story that is haunting and impressively told.