Review: Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me, Southwark Playhouse *****

Frank McGuinness’ Tony award-winning play Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me first premiered in 1992, taking the 10 year hostage crisis in Lebanon, which began in 1982,as its backdrop. The play encapsulates the harrowing ordeal that is experienced by  three men who are kidnapped and held hostage for an unspecified but undoubtedly long period of time. Thus the play begins, in a scenario that might otherwise simply sound like the beginning of a standard, albeit racist, joke: three men trapped inside a room, an Englishman,and Irishman, and an American. How these individuals negotiate their space, their endless hours, their sense of day or night, their bodily functions and, most importantly of all, each other, forms the basis of this astonishing play.

Taken from a true story, or rather, the stories of 96 foreign nationals from 21 different countries who were captured during the Lebanese hostage crisis, the setting for this play provides all that we need – or can – know about the characters’ situation, and their fate. A skillfully written three-hander, the journey of each man unravel as their individual sanity wanes, their despair mounts, and their energy diminishes, drawing the audience into the hope(lessness?) of their situation, their individual yearnings for freedom – and why.

The cast dazzle with their commitment to their characters, and at the close of the play the audience is left with a deep sense of admiration

Deftly directed by Jessica Swale of the Red Handed Theatre Company, the intricacies of the relationships between the three men are painted perfectly. The action, or what little the characters’ can partake in, is at once haunting, and excruciatingly funny. The cast dazzle with their commitment to their characters, and at the close of the play the audience is left with a deep sense of admiration, for both character and actor. Billy Carter as Edward (Irishman) in particular shines for his comic genius and turn of phrase, and silly scenarios (horse racing, the ladies 1972 Wimbledon final, movie-making, to name but a few of the mimed delights) are all hilariously executed by the three.

The setting for this play is apt; a triangular stage jets out towards an audience-in-the-round, and screens meet at perpendicular angles to further enhance the feeling of claustrophobia. Lights glare from behind the actors, to signify changes of scene, which momentarily blind the viewer, and provide a tiny taste of the uncomfortable experience -the perpetual headache – that Edward, Michael and Adam must endure. The eerie setting of the Southwark Playhouse is also a particularly choice location for this production, heightening tensions as the trains rumble all around.

Despite being a fairly long play – the length of which in reality adds to the sense of tedious waiting that these men must endure – Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me is a hard-hitting account of an era that most of us cannot imagine. A production like this is a rare treat and a must see for all those who wish to be transported into a world which, thankfully, the vast majority of us will never have to experience.

***** (5 stars)
Runs until 12th May
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