A vast stallion of an Irishman is acting out a horse race. He’s wearing shorts. He could use a shave. You can almost smell him sweating. He’s not going anywhere – one of his legs is fettered – but in his mind, he’s free, riding triumphantly. He believes it. And just for a second, so does the audience, swept along by his swirling tide of commitment.
Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me is superb. It tells the tale of three hostages confined in a Lebanese prison cell: an Irishman (David Egan) an American (Jacob Lloyd) and an Englishman (Sam Smith). Wrestling with their sanity, they cycle through childish games, gruelling physical exercise and heartrending self-revelation in a desperate battle to stay human.
The horseracing scene made a daring opening gambit. It is quite a surprise to be confronted in the first scene of a play by a towering Irishman bellowing his lungs out. I feared the performance might continue over the precipice into a constant shouting match. It didn’t. Like a great Mozart sonata, the production was a masterpiece of beautifully tempered dynamic variation.
The play’s many comic moments were flawlessly portrayed. The actors were listening to each other rather than anticipating their next line – something so many student actors fail to do – and so dialogue became rapid-fire, realistic, and extremely funny.
The contrasting emotional climaxes were almost universally well-handled. Many of them had the audience in tears. When the actors were prepared to risk everything on grief-laden understatement, they were most successful.
David Egan was spellbinding. Fascinating to watch, he created powerful tension, was extremely moving at times, and also revealed great comic delivery. He embodied his character so completely that I was left wondering whether he was a brilliant actor, or simply happened to be a proud Irishman himself – until it became clear he was playing a man many years older than he was, with a wife and children, completely convincingly.
Sam Smith displayed great sympathy for character in his portrayal of a young academic, bringing a quiet gravity to the role. He did justice to some of the play’s most heavily-charged moments.
Jacob Lloyd’s stage presence was impressive, although his American accent did threaten to sabotage him at the start of the play; his role was also the smallest and perhaps the least forgiving of the three. Nonetheless, his performance developed as the action progressed, with some unforgettable moments such as his reading of the Koran.
Of course there are flaws. Professional productions have them too – McKellen’s trumpeted Godot was full of them – in fact, barring a few brief failings, Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me could pass for a solid professional production.
Director Roland Singer-Kingsmith tells the story extremely well. The audience were hooked from beginning to end. As the action of the play consists essentially of three men in a room, this is especially laudable. Also worthy of praise are the clear and defined character choices, the decision to avoid over-politicising the script, and the intelligent and simple staging. In fact, at almost every point, one notices that considered, exciting and extremely entertaining directorial choices have been made. I could continue singing its praises, but I prefer simply to encourage you to go and see it. If there are any tickets left, that is.
Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me is on at the BT, 2-6 February