views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Captive Hearts
Etcetera Theatre
22nd August 2016

★★★★☆

Publicity photograph for Captive Hearts

Photography © Meg McConville

Sometimes, it doesn't matter how much you try, you can't avoid the spoilers. Captive Hearts is the story of Brian Keenan and John McCarthy, who were kidnapped in 1986 during the Lebanon hostage crisis and between them spent a combined total of nearly a decade locked up. Even if you're too young to remember the reporting at the time, with Keenan turning up to see this show in Camden, you sense there may be a happy ending, even if the journey to get there is bleak as hell.

This show is the opus of Paul Bridger, the playwright and director, and a man who has dedicated over a decade of his life to developing and staging it. There's presumably a fair bit of artistic licence in the dialogue, but there are also instantly recognisable verbatim lines from interviews in the media with Keenan and McCarthy, giving a chilling sense of reality to the piece. The awkward introduction with the Treasure Island joke, Keenan's aim to sleep with as many women as possible if he ever got out - all words that were once uttered. Archive tapes of news footage interspersed with the live action further contribute to this gritty, brutal setting.

Mark Moore plays Keenan as a belligerent, thickly accented Irishman, who has been locked up for a week already and yet not broken. When he meets British journalist McCarthy (Dan Burman), instantly they clash. However, stuck in a cell with no one else for company other than captor Abed (Carlos Mapano), Keenan and McCarthy soon form a close bond. They play games with words, even fashion a football out of their blindfolds, finding little ways to support each other in what can only be described as a true ordeal.

The camaraderie between the two actors is very believable, with their characters' differing personalities complementing each other well. The Keenan of this play is headstrong and brave, determined to stand up for himself no matter the personal cost and yet still very fond of the Lebanese people, refusing to let his captivity colour his assessment of those he's actually lived with, worked with and walked amongst. There's a really strong sense of morality to the character. McCarthy here is more tactical and calm, preferring to hope and wait for the right opportunity but nonetheless just as emotional. Both men reveal their innermost fears with a raw and beautiful honesty. A bromance forced by circumstances, but a touching one nonetheless.

Whilst Mapano is the obvious villain of the piece and we do see some behaviour from him that's quite difficult to sit through, we're also given a glimpse of his own humanity. There's no black and white in this play. Although Keenan has been locked up for the longest at this point, he's the first to acknowledge the good in the bad and attempt to forgive. Seeing what the two men survive, we ask ourselves whether we could be as generous in a similar situation. It's a hard question to answer honestly, and I'm not sure I could be as noble.

Captive Hearts documents an exceedingly personal tale with a real sense of empathy and warmth. The painstaking detail of Bridger's research is evident throughout and it's a fascinating piece of theatre.

Captive Hearts ran from 8th to 9th and runs from 22nd to 24th August 2016 at the Etcetera Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)



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