Photo - Wayne Aistrophe
In April 1986, Irish author Brian Keenan was taken hostage in Lebanon. Abducted on his way to work at the American University of Beirut, he was kept captive for four and a half years by the Islamic group, Jihad. Chained to the wall by his hands and feet and deprived of all association of the outside world, Keenan was constantly tortured and beaten by those who jailed him. His only companion was cellmate John McCarthy, an English journalist who along with Keenan had become a pawn in a game of international politics.
It was his conversations with Keenan that inspired in Irish playwright Frank McGuinness the birth of Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me. Causing a sensation on both The West End and Broadway for its sincerity, humour and utmost relevance, it now premieres in Melbourne with the newly formed theatre company West East Theatre.
Choosing to paint his own scenario, McGuinness embodies Keenan and McCarthy in the characters of Edward and Michael, with the American hostage Adam held captive with them. This heart-wrenching play could have easily been drawn into a familiar cliché: An Irishman, American and Englishman battle out their cultural history and differences however McGuinness skillfully rises above these stereotypes. He creates humanity in these characters, and as they battle boredom, insanity,desire and hatred they begin to identify in each other, just as we begin to identify ourselves in them.
They are constantly at war with each other and themselves and as each man drives himself to breaking point, it is the presence of another that keeps him at bay.Occasionally, they are callous to one another to maintain their own sanity, yet express tender moments of compassion when another is in need. It is this behaviour that not only normalizes them, but also allows the audience to form an association.
Throughout the play out of one shocking experience after another, emerges the humour that transcends this play into a compelling piece of theatre. They learn about each other through letters home, stories and played out imaginative sequences of sports matches, flying cars and vodka martini nights. The play thrives on the remarkable performances of the actors, with each character exerting a distinctive individualism that drives the tension. Edward, played beautifully by Trent Baker, strikes a haunting line between wielding his powerful persona whilst hiding his need for belonging. He seeks comfort in the sympathetic and calm Adam, portrayed truthfully by Richard Stables, who despite his strong mindset loses the battle to his demons.
Perhaps the strongest of all three characters is Michael, the widowed English university lecturer, played by an outstanding Ezra Bix. He skillfully characterises his English traits of education and properness, yet never proves alienating in his portrayal. It is him that leaves the play’s question unanswered; and we can only ponder about those before and after him. My only criticism of the play was that during the final moments, we were not given the time to resonate his final abandonment. The ending appeared too quickly and there was a missed opportunity to fully comprehend the desperate strength, longing for answers and clawing at hope in Bix’s performance.
Despite this, the direction from David Myles was nothing short of superb. He had an inherent understanding of the situation and drew upon his actor’s strength and weakness to discover the humanity in the character. He had a strong visualization of the environment and his close relationship with the lighting and sound design led to a complete truthful representation of the space.
West East Theatre is the brainchild of Red Stitch founders Richard Stables and Trent Baker. Aiming to bring the dedication back to Australian theatre.
Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me is an outstanding debut for this promising theatre company.
West East Theatre present
Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me
By Frank McGuinness
by special arrangement with Casarotto Ramsay
Direction: David Myles
Venue: Forty Five Downstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne 3000
Dates: 1 - 17 May
Times: Tuesday to Saturday 8pm Sunday 6pm
Bookings: (03) 9662 9966 | www.fortyfivedownstairs.com | www.westeasttheatre.com