by Frank McGuinness.

Minerva Theatre Oaklands Park PO19 6AP To 10 October 2015.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Sat & 24, 30 Sep, 8 Oct 2.45pm.
Audio-described 4 Sep, 5 Sep 2.45pm.
Post-show Discussion 5 Oct.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.

TICKETS: 01243 781312.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 16 September.

If you want to see his play, this production is the one to watch.
Set in a decade when hostages were subject to political and financial calculation rather than unrelenting belief, this 1992 drama presents an American, Irishman and English academic thrust in a Beirut cellar by guerillas. The three gradually intertwine individual and national mindsets to form a trio (musically, too, in the well-sung moments of harmony), though they end-up facing different futures.

Playwright Frank McGuinness came to dramatic notice with a large-scale play of men in time of conflict, the World War I Unionists of Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme. In this later play, the captors are unseen by the audience, the captives’ futures bound by no rules of engagement. Within the conflict situation, the play is in the line of prison dramas; its characters’ sentences might wind on forever, or come to a sudden, unexpected full-stop.

As with all prisoners, in trench or cell, patches of intense fear punctuate lives of deadly monotony, dealt with through such contrasting means as physical work-outs and flights of imagined freedoms – writing to families, going on journeys, or drinking sessions.

Two longer-term hostages accommodate to the new man when he wakes-up disorientated. The energy of Adam Rayner’s American Adam and Rory Keenan’s sparky-minded Irish Edward already have a bustle as their games and conversations help them more or less hold reality at bay.

Yet, from the moment he wakes-up, David Haig’s Michael determines the mood of the room. Haig’s never an actor to wear a character or situation like a silken dressing-gown, instead taking a role by the shoulder and shaking it vehemently.

McGuinness, a literature academic, ventures into the background only of the character who shares his occupation, and Haig gives a force even to the Early and Middle English characters Michael quotes, grabbing enthusiastically at the Anglo-Saxon Wanderer as its textual ambiguities find an unexpected immediacy in his newly uncertain life.

The fine playing in Michael Attenborough’s charged production, on Robert Jones’ suitably brutalist platform setting, can’t hide the play’s contrived feel, of conscious crafting rather than spontaneously-lived lives. But this is probably as good as it can get.

Edward: Rory Keenan.
Adam: Adam Rayner.
Michael: David Haig.

Director: Michael Attenborough.
Designer: Robert Jones.
Lighting: Paule Constable.
Sound: Fergus O’Hare.
Assistant director: Madeleine Oaten.

2015-09-20 00:28:41

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