A while ago, director Dominic Dromgoole wrote a fine book about contemporary playwriting called The Full Room. His chapter on “Frank MacGuinness” begins: “Directors would kill for more plays like Someone To Watch Over Me.” He got the title, and the spelling of the author’s name, slightly wrong, but the point stands: this three-hander, based loosely on the Beirut hostages, is a joy both to stage and to watch.
It’s a simple premise: an American, an Irishman and an Englishman are locked in a room, chained to radiators, trying not to drive each other mad while they wait for either freedom or death. But McGuinness’s play is a lot more lively than that summary suggests. The way the hostages keep body and soul together is through flights of the imagination, and through winding each other up, pugnaciously or comically.
Dominic Dromgoole has been a respected director for years, but of late he and his Oxford Stage Company are hot. He has the pull, then, to secure an all-star cast: Jonny Lee Miller as the American, David (Shameless) Threlfall as the Englishman, and Aidan (Queer As Folk) Gillen as Edward the Irishman. Things start uncertainly, but gradually we warm to the performances and thus to the quirks of the various characters.
When David Threlfall’s character arrives, he seems to be doing too much of a caricature middle-class English accent. It’s the little comic touches he gradually works into his portrayal of Michael that turn things around. Likewise, Aidan Gillen seems sometimes to be playing Edward too much on one note; when he breaks down, we see in retrospect that it’s all been a front. Miller copes better, but exits early.
You might think that a play so rooted in early 1990s events would be dated. In fact, it’s still current: not just the world politics we glimpse behind the scenes, but the main subject, which is simply how men interact with one another, whether in extremes or not. It’s about support and comradeship and that kind of, well, love. And that never goes out of fashion, certainly not when done as excellently as here.
Written for Teletext.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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