Reviews: The Hostage

Centre Stage, Dublin City FM  (Aug 2009)

‘Rarely was a company so aptly named – this show really is such a Wonderland…it’s so funny, so dark, so satirical – at times it feels like a party. One is eye to eye with the actors and there is terrific involvement between the audience and the actors. It is beautifully directed and choreographed and the movement feels like the sea, it flows around the room, it ripples over the audience and into the corners of the room like a wave, the choreography is both lyrical and poetic and the direction is terrific. The play pits humane solidarity against political violence and this is a completely original take on the piece.

The thirteen actors are fantastic and it’s hard to single one out – there is a wonderful performance from Noel O’Shea which is beautiful, and Kerrie O’Sullivan’s Teresa is so so beautiful. This is a very funny production, which pushes the fun and the humour, and also leaves you helpless with laughter. It really needs a great director like Alice Coghlan to pull it off. It is filled with philosophy and it brings the light up on a serious tale. It is a unique and natural production and I thoroughly recommend it to our listeners – it is a lovely experience and, a most enjoyable one.’


The Irish Mail on Sunday (July 2009)  ✮✮✮✮
This Brendan Behan play started life in Irish as An Giall, and became The Hostage under the influence of Joan Littlewood in 1950s London. At its simplest, it’s almost a dramatisation of Frank O’Connor’s great story, Guests of the Nation, with echoes of O’Caseys Shadow of a Gunman, but the Littlewood treatment turned a generally serious play about hostage-taking into an extraordinary mix of sex romp, exuberant song and dance, and a satire on political and religious hypocrisy.

Set in a brothel during the IRA’s campaign of the Fifties, it now seems peculiarly suited to the setting the Wonderland Company has chosen, two rooms of the Pearse Centre- although Pearse would hardly approve of the sexual gropings. Sitting in the actual rooms gives the feeling at times that you are intruding into the action.

Despite the manic bawdiness of the brothel, which includes a couple of gay men and an array of women, the core of the play remains the human plight of the young English soldier (Noel O’Shea) held as a hostage to be shot in the event of the an IRA man being executed.

O’Shea is a convincing naïve young soldier, clueless about politics and history, who integrates well with his captors and falls for the simple country girl played with a nice mixture of compassion and uncertainty by Kerrie O’Sullivan.

The dying-for-Ireland speeches are mostly delivered by the dubious War of Independence hero/piano player (Morgan Cooke) by the cartoonish English-soldier-turned-IRA man (Martin Philips) and the fanatic IRA chief (Neill Flemming.) But the play takes no side in the political battle.

It’s an emotional barrage, that begs to be savagely edited, yet it is delivered with such exhilarating enthusiasm by director Alice Coghlan and a cast who contribute musical accompaniment, that it disarms logical criticism.

The Sunday Independent  (July 2009)
The grinding that might be heard in the area of Pearse Street in Dublin these evenings is undoubtedly Patrick Pearse turning in his blood-obsessed, humourless grave. Wonderland Productions have staged a site-specific production of Behan’s The Hostage in the Pearse Centre, where the 1916 leader was born.

Having suffered imprisonment as a teenager for the ’cause’, Behan regarded it at best with mordant humour, and frequently with extreme cynicism about its true worth. It certainly wasn’t worth dying for, he reckoned: whether your weapon of choice became a self-preserving bottle of stout, or you bedecked yourself with the badges of joylessness such as the Pioneer pin and the gold Fainne, you needed bringing down to a sizable reality. And he did it with The Hostage.

When 18-year-old National Service squaddie Leslie is kidnapped by the IRA leaving a dancehall in Armagh in 1960, and imprisoned in the Dublin brothel run by Old IRA Pat and his common-law wife Meg, on behalf of the nutty ‘Monsewer’, to be held hostage for an IRA man about to be executed in Belfast, he tells his captors “everybody was doing something to somebody” in times past.

It’s the argument that has fallen on deaf Irish ears for generations; we preferred to believe in the singularity of our suffering. And it has given generations of subversives their raison d’etre.

This ambivalent heritage is seldom credited to The Hostage, but it emerges wickedly in this production, with the cast still maintaining the wild vaudevillian nature of the piece and its bawdy anarchic humour.

There are good, sometimes excellent, performances from Noel O’Shea as the puzzled Leslie, Kerrie O’Sullivan as the innocent Teresa, Martin Phillips as Monsewer, Morgan Cooke as Pat, Lesa Thurman as the hymn-singing Miss Gilchrist, and Neill Fleming as the IRA man. There is terrific direction and choreography by Alice Coghlan.

The Sunday Times  (July 2009)
Staged in Padraig Pearse’s former family home in Dublin, on a stage comprising adjoining rooms, this Wonderland production has a rare intimacy, a quality enhanced by Alice Coghlan the director and choreographer, as she encourages her off-stage actors to sit amongst the audience and to remain in character during the interval. With little or no distance between stalls and stage, Brendan Behan’s biting lampoon has an energising narrative drive, not least during the surreal musical interludes. In one, Leslie Williams (Noel O’Shea) the hostage, is welcomed with a mini ceilidh to the IRA safe house run by Pat (Morgan Cooke). Eithne McGuinness, Martin Philips, Michael Bates, Neill Fleming, O’Shea and Cooke (who is also the composer) all contribute strong turns, but this is a collective effort, particularly as most characters are required to sing, dance and play an instrument. The result is by no means perfect, but it is a worthy triumph of the imagination.

Irish Times (24th July 2009)
Without any risk of overstatement, Wonderland Productions is a company that is really going places. A plucky, ideas-driven and indefatigable theatre group, they have had no easy access to conventional venues and have learned to improvise handsomely, staging their works in various site-specific venues. Alice Coghlan’s troupe have previously staged Molière’s The Miser in a Georgian home, her own version of Goldoni’s La Locandiera in a Tapas bar, and the original comedy Life Shop til You Drop! in venues from Dublin to Dubai.

A young company with a clearly classical sensibility, Wonderland’s new undertaking is Brendan Behan’s The Hostage. Its largest production yet, the show is performed in the birthplace of Padraic Pearse, a Victorian terrace house which here stands for the 1960s Dublin brothel-cum-safe house where the IRA hold Private Leslie Williams hostage for the night. Behan’s play is populated with rebel heroes, homosexual navvies, whores, convent girls and decaying civil servants. As is so often the case with site-specific theatre – sometimes the associations between play and space chime, sometimes they clang.

But Wonderland know their history. This venue is an appropriately charged place for The Hostage’s execution.


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