Rory Keenan had never performed in Chichester before. In fact, he’d never been to the city before.
But his first impressions are that the city’s Minerva Theatre will be just right for Frank McGuinness’ Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me (until October 10), the tale of an Englishman, an Irishman and an American forced together in captivity.
Based on the experiences of those taken hostage in Lebanon in the 1980s, Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me is McGuinness’s hymn to the defiant power of the human spirit and the creative imagination.
Rory is promising a pretty intense time, just as you’d imagine – but certainly not one unrelieved by humour, despite the tensions between the three: “Three people in one room for a long space of time, no matter how big the space, you know it is going to get uncomfortable. It is small enough for them to feel a sense of claustrophobia, and when you are in a small space, those tensions are accentuated.
“I am playing the Irishman Edward, and I think they have to train antagonism at each other to support each other. That’s the power of the piece, that it can turn on a sixpence. One of the interesting things about it is particularly Edward and Adam set out to support each other by being cruel to each other because it toughens you up against the people that are really perpetrating this cruelty. As long as you stick together and toughen up, you can cope. It is about the ways they find cope. It’s a funny kind of psychology that you have to try to understand and accept.
“There is great regard for each other and great love, but there is also great antagonism. There is no suggestion that they have had any previous relationship with each other. They just have to work it out. You put someone in an environment of adversity, and you see what they are made of. Their only option is to try to survive. They don’t have any choice. It has to happen. They try to find their strength, and their human spirit comes through.
“Edward was born and raised in Ireland. He is a journalist who seems to have been in Lebanon I don’t know how long, but long enough to know the lie of the land. He seems to be someone with itchy feet, someone who is a bit restless. He likes interrogating people, as most journalists do. He enjoys the chase. He is a useful person to have in that room.”
So yes, it’s a gruelling piece: “You have to go places with it. That idea that you force yourself to be cruel to someone else is not an easy idea to play with. You have to get your head around that idea that in order to survive they have to make some very tough decisions with each other. You have got to go somewhere the stakes are much, much higher. It is about gathering yourself and being very present in the moment and very aware of the scenario we are putting ourselves in. It’s the kind of play where you can’t allow too many distractions in.
“But at the same time, some bits are really, really funny. It’s another survival technique that the guys have, the ability to make each other laugh.”
Somewhere lurk their unseen captors yet, in the cell, there are stories of adventure and love, there is song and laughter, and even a surge of writing, cocktail-drinking and movie-making…
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