Between 1982 and 1992, over one hundred hostages were kidnapped in Lebanon. Most were Americans or Western Europeans, and at least eight died or were murdered whilst in captivity. Irish dramatist Frank McGuiness’s play, Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me, which premiered at London’s Hampstead Theatre in 1992, follows three of these hostages as they fight for both their survival and their sanity. This is an ambitious undertaking by the Nottingham New Theatre and one which largely succeeds, although the considerable length of the piece ultimately compromises its dramatic tension.
The play opens with Irish journalist Edward Sheridan (Chris Sharp-Paul) and American doctor Adam Canning (Gil Eplan-Frankel) chained to the floor of a cell. Adam has been incarcerated for four months, and Edward for two. The arrival of newly-taken hostage Michael Watters (Sam Peake), an English professor, creates friction within the group, and the men initially struggle to overcome each other’s nationalistic differences. Fusspot Michael clashes with the fiery Edward, and although the easy-going Adam attempts to keep the peace, their sanity begins to slip as hopelessness takes its grip. What follows is a series of darkly comic vignettes, such as the recreation of the 1977 ladies’ singles Wimbledon final, in which the audience is left guessing whether the characters’ unpredictable behaviour is simply a coping mechanism or a sign of impending insanity.
“Despite sporadic diction issues, the actors hold their own against a physically and mentally challenging script”
Aside from the odd clunky moment of exposition, McGuiness’s script is well-written, and director Will Berrington makes a point of contrasting the play’s darker moments with its absurd scenes. The choice to stage the piece in thrust gives it an intensely voyeuristic dynamic, and the three actors cope well with the intimate proxemics. Their performances are universally impressive, with Gil Eplan-Frankel particularly affecting as the American desperate to keep in shape for his girlfriend at home in San Francisco. Chris Sharp-Paul, sporting an excellent Irish accent, provides what could be quite a static piece with bursts of erratic energy, whilst Sam Peake, although occasionally a little sing-song in his delivery, gives gravity and poise to the disillusioned professor. Despite sporadic diction issues, the actors hold their own against a physically and mentally challenging script.
“Nathan Penney’s lighting design is simple yet effective in differentiating the naturalistic sequences from the more absurd ones”
Ollie Shortt’s well-designed set evokes the claustrophobia of the hostages’ cell: a stained grey floor, chalk-covered walls and an imposing metal gate emphasise the sparseness of their living conditions, although several incidents where the chains binding the actors to the floor became detached unfortunately compromised the believability of their situation. Nathan Penney’s lighting design is simple yet effective in differentiating the naturalistic sequences from the more absurd ones, although the odd bursts of 1950s music during scene changes serve to emphasise rather than disguise the script’s episodic structure. This is the play’s central problem: the lack of plot results in an absence of dramatic tension, whilst the running time of almost three hours (including interval) is unnecessarily long for a play in which very little action occurs. As a result, key moments such as Edward’s mental breakdown fail to pack enough of an emotional punch due to the lack of urgency in the play’s preceding scenes.
Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me is based on frighteningly recent events, and Frank McGuiness’s script captures the nationalistic similarities and differences of his characters well. The length of this production and its subsequent pacing issues mean it is unable to consistently drive home the horror of life in captivity, but the occasional drop in energy is somewhat redeemed by the strength of the actors’ performances.
‘Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me’ is running at the Nottingham New Theatre until Friday 18th March. For more information see here.