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Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me

Nicola Mostyn discovers life’s coincidences at a Library Theatre production

Published on May 31st 2007.

Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me

In the preview event for this production, Library Theatre Director Chris Honer took care to point out that, while this Frank McGuiness play was inspired by the story of Brain Keenan, it isn’t about his experience.

Rather it’s the story of anyone who has suffered in captivity, a universal account of adversity and survival. At the time of speaking, BBC journalist Alan Johnston was missing. During the first week of this production’s run, five more Britons were kidnapped in Baghdad. It seems that, whenever it is staged, this exploration of the terrors of incarceration will always be horribly relevant.

It seems that, whenever it is staged, this exploration of the terrors of incarceration will always be horribly relevant.

As the play open to the music of the title we meet Adam, an American doctor, and Edward, an Irish journalist, imprisoned in a cell somewhere in Lebanon for reasons they don’t understand by people they refer to only as ‘the enemy’. Dressed in filthy shorts and T-shirts and chained to the wall, they have a mattress, a bottle of water, the bible and the Koran. Adam, there the longest at four months, exercises and reads the bible to keep his sanity intact. Edward has his own way of keeping going, by tormenting, joking with and mentally testing his fellow inmate. When a genteel English teacher is added to their number, he gains an even better target.

There is a huge amount of humour in this play as the three men bicker and banter, by turns helping and hindering each other in their attempts to keep a grip on themselves, by increasing surreal measures. Stripped of their outside lives, with no idea if they have hope of release, their emotions peak and trough. The cell becomes their whole world. Home, being so remote, becomes something exotic and foreign.

As the three play games, take the piss out of each other, re-enact films, rail against their internment and write imagined letters home, we discover more about their lives and characters: why they want to survive, what will help them and how, possibly, they will crack.

Amidst the plentiful humour, this is an extremely intense play. The set is stark, with one bare bulb lighting up the stage in a merciless glare. Having established the awfulness of the men’s situation as captives to hostile forces, the audience is then exposed to the encroaching terror of what is not known: how long this will go on, whether their governments will help them, whether they can handle what must be handled and if so, how. And if not, what then?

Chris Honer’s direction expertly conveys this sense of claustrophobia to the audience, who are as dependent on the three as the three are on each other for entertainment and for hope. In such a sparse, emotionally packed piece, every gesture and inflection is crucial. The cast are excellent at depicting the torpor and mania (all the while chained to a wall) and the chemistry between the three is always convincing. Alun Raglan and Damian Kearney are persuasive and likeable as the strong, quiet Adam and the bolshy Edward respectively. Michael Mears gets plenty of gentle humour from his delicate Englishman and, if this character does verge a little towards caricature, this sets up a contrast to the dignity his character gains as the play progresses.

This is a strange mix of a play, as funny as it is intense, full of laughs, but relentless, something you endure even while you are enjoying it. Ultimately, despite the inexorable horror of the situation, it’s a powerful depiction of incarceration and the resilience of the human spirit, suggesting there’s more than one way to capture a man, and more than one way to be free.

Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me, Library Theatre (Central Library, St Peter’s Square, City. 0161 236 7110. www.librarytheatre.com). From £10.50. Until Jun 16.

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