Wednesday, 23 March 1994

Someone Who'll Watch Over Me, Frank McGuinness, MTC, March 23, 1994


Someone Who'll Watch Over Me
 By Frank McGuinness
MTC Russell Street Theatre
March 23 to April 23, 1994
Published in The Melbourne Times, April 1994
Reviewed by Kate Herbert, March 23, 1994

An Englishman, an Irishman and an American walked into a cell. No, it's not a bad joke but the framework for Irish playwright Frank McGuinness's play, Someone Who'll Watch Over Me: a passionate, stirring, torturous and hilarious piece of near-documentary theatre. The play is set in the terrifyingly claustrophobic atmosphere of a Beirut prison cell in the 80's during a period when Arab terrorist groups were picking foreign workers off the street and incarcerating them to publicise their cause or to hasten release of their members.

First two, then three men, are incarcerated in a tiny cell. In Sartre's No Exit, Hell was living in a room with people you hate. McGuinness throws three men together to survive incarceration, torture, beating and each other. The play is a celebration of the human spirit; our capacity to overcome adversity, to rise above suffering, torture and degradation. These men survive by jogging, fighting, caring for each other, nursing their delicate psyches, checking their sanity against each others' and drifting into flights of fancy.

McGuinness throws three men together to survive incarceration, torture, beating and each other. The play is a celebration of the human spirit; our capacity to overcome adversity, to rise above suffering, torture and degradation. These men survive by jogging, fighting, caring for each other, nursing their delicate psyches, checking their sanity against each others' and drifting into flights of fancy. There is little "action" but much dramatic tension, emotional intensity and hilarity. It is episodic, covering a period of months, perhaps years. Moods vary. Wills waver. Strength fails. They sing, play games, "shoot movies", "write" letters, relive memories and create experiences at home and with their loved ones to create lives outside this nightmare.

The Irish boozing journo, Edward, loathes Michael, the wimpy lecturer in obscure Old English poetry just as his real life counterpart, Brian Keenan took exception to his cell-mate John McCarthy. Adam, the Californian Christian psychiatrist, based on Dr. David Jacobsen, could drive a man to drink if he could get near some. All the action take place within the cell. The guards are a constant but invisible threat outside the single door. Trina Parker's extraordinary design manages to fill the stage but confine the actors' space giving a sense of restriction without narrowing their capacity to perform.

There is little "action" but much dramatic tension, emotional intensity and hilarity. It is episodic, covering a period of months, perhaps years. Moods vary. Wills waver. Strength fails. They sing, play games, "shoot movies", "write" letters, relive memories and create experiences at home and with their loved ones to create lives outside this nightmare.

 The play is a gift for actors. It is directed simply and stylishly by Bruce Myles with magnificent performances. Gallacher takes us on a roller-coaster ride in his passionate and loving portrayal of the volatile and maddening Irish wit, Edward. We squirm at Richard Piper's foppish Brit, until he reveals his strength as he supports Edward in his grief. Melvin J. Carroll as Adam has a gentleness which makes his journey more painful to witness. His Amazing Grace was achingly beautiful.

There is a wrenching, existential pain in Frank McGuinness' play which can only come from such deprivation, isolation and terror as that experienced by political hostages. We are voyeurs on the psychic torment of these men. Every observer knows that it could be he or she in that cell. How would we survive? What resources can we draw upon and would we want to live anyway?

 KATE HERBERT 25.3.94