‘Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by June 7, 2017

‘Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me’ is a chilling play written by world-renowned Irish dramatist, and Professor of Creative Writing at University College Dublin, Frank McGuinness. McGuinness was born in 1953 at Buncrana near Derry, on the north coast of Ireland.

He is renowned for his adaptations of plays by Sophocles and Brecht, and his anthologies of poetry.

When this play was first staged in London in 1992, it received a Tony Award nomination for ‘Best Play’, and won the 1993 New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Foreign Play.

This gripping two and a half hour production is being presented by the Irish Theatre Players, at the Irish Club, Townsend Road, Subiaco each Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night at 8.00 pm. until Friday 2nd June. There is a matinée on Saturday 24th May at 2.00 pm.

 

‘Then I awake and look around me, at four grey walls that surround me’ could well apply to this play. The walls are pale grey with hunks of plaster crumbling off. A re-enforced door with a narrow pane of glass is centre of the rear wall. On the floor are three palliasses. Thick-linked, steel chains are fastened to the walls, and each to a prisoner. There are no windows.

The lighting is low, although at noon the room lights up, presumably from slots high on the walls, or from open roof lights. The day becomes humid and the room steamy.

Duncan Rice solidly built Rhiannon Walker’s realistic set. John Spurling’s lighting was superb, and the crisp soundscape by Daniel Toomath was first class. The stage manager is Caroline McDonnell.

      The play’s title comes from a 90-year old Gershwin song, made famous by Ella Fitzgerald.

      Two men are locked up in the cell of a Lebanon prison. Gradually as the morning sun rises, a voice can be heard singing ‘Someone to Watch over Me’. It is a young American doctor, Adam (Manuao TeAotonga), who has been held in this Hellhole, lying on his straw mattress for four months, and the quiver in his voice shows his stress. The place stinks and the food is infrequent and inadequate.

        Across the room, a figure stirs from his sleep. He is an Irish news reporter, Edward (Paul Davey) who, although being streetwise was also kidnapped without reason, and has been a prisoner for two long months. Suddenly Adam starts screaming and cursing. Edward calms him down, explaining that he is playing into the hands of their unknown Arab captors. Neither is too sure of the time or even what day it is. Adam shouts that when the Americans come to save him they had better watch out, but Edward is far more levelheaded, and quickly calms him down.

       One morning the two young men wake to find another man in the room. He is an upper crust Englishman, Michael (Grant Malcolm). Although this university lecturer in ancient English is approaching late middle age, he is a mother’s boy with all the scars of being sent to a posh boarding school such as Harrow or Eton. It becomes obvious that Michael has never even made a cup of tea for himself, and this ordeal is beyond his ken. With a superior toffee-nosed tone, Michael tells his cellmates how he will soon change things and they will all be out in hours.

       In this miserable cell, the prisoners have their lows, some very low. They also have their highs as they relive episodes of their lives, and enjoy passages of pure madcap fantasy. However, always at the back of their mind is the mental stability of their hijackers. Will they ever be set free? Or simply left to rot?

 

It is a special kind of actor who volunteers for a play with almost three hours of sitting on a thin mattress, in a set with no props, with very little physical action, and a storyline that is dialogue driven. Here we have three brave and very talented men who have done just that. The audience is totally focused on the actor who is speaking, examining every subtle change in his intonation. McGuinness’s three characters are all very different. Adam is a clever man, who is nervously aware of what is really going on. Edward also knows the circumstances, but has the mind-set to deal with it – but does he? Michael, who has never had much real love in his life, still manages a stiff upper lip and is ever hopeful of a rapid conclusion to the ‘obvious mistaken identity’.

The director, Andrew Baker, has kept the action moving and the actors motivated. This is the kind of play that could easily fall flat if the pace is wrong, or if an actor allows his attention to drift. The acting and direction were outstanding, the audience were soon ‘in the cell’ with the men, experiencing and suffering their ups and downs, whilst sharing all their tensions and concerns for the future.

This was a long play, but this exceptional team kept you on the edge of your seat for every second. Although all three extraordinary actors could find themselves up for acting awards, Grant Malcolm was remarkable.

Many of the audience – all of whom gave a standing ovation – commented that this was possibly the best play by the Irish Theatre in decades; and as we all know their standards are extra special. MANY congratulations.