A touching war drama, a ‘carry-on’ comedy or a musical drowning in Irish single malt?
Elements of all are to be found in Jagged Fence’s production of The Hostage. A performance that contained so much movement and alteration it seemed to be like a high tempo dance sequence where no one is dancing or that someone had pressed the fast-forward button (and I’m not sure I blame them).
Set in Dublin, 1958, the Irish are under the thumb of the IRA as war ensues. The stock characters, who had little depth, we find in a brothel; where constant drinking, sex and Irish Jigs are on repeat. The focus of the story finally comes when a British Soldier is taken hostage and placed in the boarding house; together with the other inhabitants he awaits his fate. This simple plot was made frenzied by the constant coming and going of characters, excessive movement within scenes, random musical-like numbers and rushed dialogue too quick to achieve impact.
The best thing about this production is its venue. Southwark playhouse has an incredibly individual look and feel to it. Cavernous bare-brick walls enhance the cold and gloom, giving the theatre the feel of an eerie but grand cave. The train rumblings’ overhead contributed to the play in that they could easily be sounds of war and destruction. Using a thrust stage on level with the audience meant that the intimacy was almost too much, indeed I moved back in my seat several times so as not to be hit by an all singing, all dancing, Guinness swilling prostitute.
The fight scene at the end of act 1 was contrived and childish but was nowhere near as bad as the stylised wailing that begun the second act. The cries made by the two girls can be compared only to those of a dying cat. It was neither touching nor comical and had no bearing on the play. If this wailing had a meaning it was not attainable and its only effect was confusion and a slight ringing in one’s ears.
The integrity of the piece and its historical, political and social significance was, in this instance, undermined. An abundance of dancing, song and lowbrow comedy made a serious drama seem whimsical and unthoughtful. Perhaps if slowed down and honed it would have felt more like a poignant story and less like a pantomime.