Frank McGuinness’s Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me takes place in a room in Lebanon where three hostages – an American, an Irishman and an Englishman – are being held. Chained up, with only the Bible and the Koran to read, they pass the time as best they can, never knowing if this day is their last.
We see their aching vulnerability, their loneliness, and their nastiness – but also their spirits soaring, raised by song, story, memory, or simply the creativity of their own imaginations.
Theatre by the Lake’s studio is skilfully converted into a claustrophobic cell in Elizabeth Wright’s design, which incorporates a church window breezeblocked up. Matt Hall’s sound design with its evocative use of drones suggests both menace and monotony.
But there are great moments of uplift and solidarity as well, as Mary Papadima’s direction liberates the play’s physically playful energy and enables excellent performances from her cast of three. Matthew Vaughan brings a tense pathos to the part of Adam, the American. It’s soon clear that he is the most vulnerable of the hostages, unravelling before our eyes in a thousand twitches and tics. Jack Power’s Irishman Edward has the hottest head, and many of the funniest lines, a man of the world now confined in a tiny room. Peter Macqueen’s fussy English lecturer is an innocent abroad, seemingly with little in common with either.
But this is not a play of stereotypes; rather it explores the inadequacy of the characters’ knowledge of self and others. All three actors find in McGuinness’s words layer after layer of subtle revelation and discovery. We see them as children, playing together, with all the time in the world (a rousing version of "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" being a particular highlight).
This contrasts with scenes of them broken down as it seems possible to be as they confront, over and over again, the reality of their situation. Papadima's Someone is a sensitive and nuanced production of a modern classic, which grips as it entertains.