Frank McGuinness's initial impetus for this strong, sensitive play was wondering how John McCarthy must have felt when left alone after Brian Keenan's release. Though there's no attempt to re-create their characters, he does end on such a moment, having spent the evening laying bare the bonds of necessity that build up between three hostages in Beirut.
By half-using national stereotypes (stoical, classically educated Englishman; sardonic but emotional Irishman; an American determined that, as an American, he shan't be seen to crumble but does), McGuinness sketches shifting patterns of alliances and enmities, friendships and furies in the men's attempts to stave off "the boredom, the bloody boredom" and the terrifying uncertainty of their fate. Highlights include the 1977 Wimbledon ladies' final (with Alec McCowen as Virginia Wade, and Stephen Rea doubling as Betty Stove and the Queen), and one of the most total, gratifying moments of audience pin-drop silence I've heard for some time as the masks of national identity and forced frivolity come down.
The play reads marvellously, plays (under Robin Lefèvre's taut direction) even better, and boasts a tremendous performance by Stephen Rea. Simply beautiful.
Written for City Limits magazine.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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