The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings


SEARCH CurtainUp



Etcetera and
Short Term Listings



LA/San Diego






Free Updates
NYC Weather
A CurtainUp LondonLondon Review
Someone Who'll Watch Over Me
by Charlotte Loveridge

Just as I was chained in darkness for almost five years, my captors were chained to their guns in a profound darkness I could see into. Tell me now, who is the prisoner here?
--- Brian Keenan
Someone Who'll Watch Over Me
Johnny Lee Miller as Adam and Aiden Gillen as Edward
(Photo: John Haynes)
In April 1986, Brian Keenan was abducted on his way to work at the American University of Beirut. The Islamic group Jihad kept him in underground prisons and denied him all contact with the outside world. His jailors, who barely spoke any English, subjected him to constant unpredictable abuse and fettered his wrists and ankles. It was not until he had survived four and a half years of this treatment that he was finally released.

Frank McGuinness was inspired by his conversations with Keenan to write Someone Who'll Watch Over Me, a play which is heartrendingly compassionate, tenderly tragic but also uproariously funny. The scenario could so easily have been fodder for a cliché-ridden, crudely manipulative piece: an Irishman, Englishman and American overcome their cross-national tensions to form a close friendship under the appalling strain of captivity. However, McGuinness saves his play from the perils of stereotype with exceptional writing. Skilful yet moving, it seems so simple.

The play is expertly understated and colossally emotive themes are purged of all affectation. What remains is an essentially human drama. Crammed with compassion, the characters are realistically imperfect but still imbued with so much sympathy that it is impossible not to be enthralled by them. They are sometimes cruel to each other but this only convinces us of their normality and thus their accessibility. They just evince humanity.

It is the humour in the midst of such a harrowing experience, however, which makes this play so poignantly entertaining. Verbal wit is combined with physical, almost farcical, comedy. The play stresses how their imprisonment is not just confinement but also absolute exclusion from the rest of their lives. The hostages therefore try to compensate for this with lively, imaginative role-play. They pretend to shoot films, go to a bar, or roam abroad in a flying car. At another point, two of the characters impersonate rabbits but, contemptuously dissatisfied with the other's incompetence in bunny acting, they then parody the other's impression.

The unchanging scene reflects the unremitting squalor and monotony of the captivity. A single bulb harshly lights a room enclosed by thick, uncovered concrete walls. Rusty radiators provide the means for securing chains which bind the hostages. There is no window except for an unreachable tiny opening for an extractor fan.

The mundanity and the claustrophobia of the set-up, however, is matched by the energy and vitality of the performances. In Britain at least, the three members of the cast have celebrity status, but deservedly so. Each character has a very distinctive individuality without ever descending into caricature. Edward (Aiden Gillen) is volatile and angrily frustrated at his incarceration. His powerful personality veers between charisma and antagonism. Johnny Lee Miller's unostentatiously impressive performance is sympathetic and intelligent as the more stable, softer Adam. David Threlfall plays Michael, a university lecturer of Old and Middle English literature who can be, by his own admission, a 'sanctimonious prig'. Michael is quintessentially English and has lived the insular existence of an academic of an abstruse and archaic subject. The great strength of Threlfall's consummately idiosyncratic performance is its hilarity which is never alienating.

The three characters' interaction and the micropolitical dynamics between them really make this production. They snipe at each other with all the destructive ugliness of their ill-concealed fear and powerlessness, but their eventual sympathetic bond is truly life-affirming and embodies the totem-hero of the play: "God the Merciful, the Compassionate".

The plight of hostages has obvious relevance to current affairs today, but the play really does not need any such excuse to be revived. In fact, the greater theme of shared humanity struggling under adversity transcends any specific political issues. This is a worthy, expert production of a play which is tragic, comic and ultimately redemptive.

Someone Who'll Watch Over Me
Directed by Dominic Dromgoole

Starring: Johnny Lee Miller, Aiden Gillen, David Threlfall
Design: Anthony Lamble
Lighting: Paul Anderson
Sound: Fergus O'Hare
Running time: Two hours 20 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0870 060 6627
Booking to 18th June 2005
Reviewed by Charlotte Loveridge based on 21st April 2005 performance at the New Ambassadors, West Street, London (Tube: Leicester Square)
London Theatre Walks

Mendes at the Donmar
Our Review

Peter Ackroyd's  History of London: The Biography
Peter Ackroyd's History of London: The Biography

London Sketchbook
London Sketchbook

Tales From Shakespeare
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co. Click image to buy.
Our Review

metaphors dictionary cover
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
Click image to buy.
Go here for details and larger image.

©Copyright 2005, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from