An Englishman, an Irishman and an American stumble into a hostage situation. The results are sublime. PHIL LIEBMAN reports.

Corpus Playroom, 8th-12th March, 9.30pm, £5-6

Directed by Oisín Kearney

[rating:5/5]

The most impressive part of this production is just how awful it might have been. Frank McGuiness’ brilliantly-crafted script flirted daringly with cliché only to veer off at the last minute into gut-wrenching sadness or bursts of laughter; often both at once.

Generosity is not one of my most obvious characteristics. Gushing reviews are boring to write, and even more boring to read. However, finding fault with this magnificent production was so difficult that I’d given up my curmudgeonly zeal by the time I was home.

The direction was minimal, which is to its credit. It would have been so easy to clutter up the stage or try to find something in the script that wasn’t there. But there was a much greater impact from the bleak, bare walls offset only by chains, water bottles and three men in the midst of a nightmare.

Photographs by Oisín Kearney

The subject matter of the play, three hostages imprisoned in Lebanon, is a hard-hitting and sensitive issue which was handled with great care and and humour. The unseen captors provide a constant, cramping menace and the psychological torment is ever-present though rarely mentioned.

The characters try to bear their personal hells through fantasy and jest; we often surge out of the banalities of boredom to re-enactments of great tennis matches. The idea of national identity is played on throughout, especially the relationship between the Englishman and the Irishman. Old animosity dies hard, even in the presence of a common enemy.

The performances by all three members of the gifted cast were superb throughout, and frankly with such a character-driven script, the play would have fallen flat with anything less. The actors’ commitment to their roles was immediately apparent; all three had shaved their heads for the play and their accents were honest and believable. Little things like this really underlined the quality of the production.

Arthur Kendrick as Adam, the American, was sublime; at times quiet and withdrawn and at others seething with rage. Similarly Harry Baker seemed perfect for the role of a mild English academic, bumbling and flustered without becoming unbelievable.

My favourite performance was that of Michael Campbell. He brought both comedy and frailty to what was probably the most interesting character of the play and he became the driving force behind most of the scenes. His comic ability was impressive throughout, from discussing the relative merits of the word “shitehead”, to acting out a sexually-charged Elizabeth II.

The slow-burning torment and gallows-humour combined with choking claustrophobia make this play poignant and enjoyably horrifying. I can thank all of the elements of cast, direction and script for coming together to make one of the most rewarding theatrical experiences I’ve enjoyed in Cambridge. Go and see it. Go on. Now.

EDITOR’S NOTE: it doesn’t start until 9.30, but go and see it then.