Sunday, 29 June 2014

Theatre review: Hostage Song

It's a truism that no subject matter is too difficult to get the musical theatre treatment, but creatives always seem to find new ways to test the theory. In the Finborough's Sunday-Tuesday slot the unlikely subject matter is the kidnapping and beheading of American hostages in the Middle East. Clay McLeod Chapman's Hostage Song features rock songs with music and lyrics by Kyle Jarrow, performed by an onstage band with Pierce Reid on vocals, as well as some numbers taken on by the couple at the centre of the story: Jim (Michael Matus) is a contractor for the Pentagon, Jennifer (Verity Marshall) a journalist reporting the plight of the very people who have now captured them both. Thrown together in a cell and both expecting to be executed, the pair try to deal with their fear and missing their families, by playing games that develop into an extended fantasy where they're a normal couple, meeting in a bar, being introduced to each other's parents and planning a future.

Their captors (Maria Teresa Creasey and Matthew Hebden) also double as their families back home, chipping in speeches and songs and sending out pleas for their safety. They also play roles in the hostages' fantasies as they get more intricate.

Reid also plays Jim's teenage son who (in a plot point that reminded me of Shivered) some time later has been traumatised after a schoolmate showed him how to find a video of his father's beheading.

Matus and Marshall have a lot asked of them and do very well with the unusual demand to perform the entire show blindfolded with their arms tied, first in front of them then behind their backs, scrabbling and bumping around the stage. With Jim confirmed early on in the story as being fated to die at his captors' hands, and little to suggest Jennifer will be any luckier, there are moments in the piece that are incredibly dark. But their flights of fancy do provide lighter moments, and Jarrow's songs are surprisingly energetic and tuneful.

James Veitch's production does a good job of balancing the constant contradictions that the play demands. At 80 minutes it's probably about as long as an audience could take the harrowing elements, but the short run time does also mean the play feels more like an experiment in form than a fully-formed work, so it's not entirely satisfying. Worth a look though for a show trying something a bit different and managing surprisingly well to get a horrific subject into a lighter context without diminishing it.

Hostage Song by Clay McLeod Chapman and Kyle Jarrow is booking in repertory until the 8th of July at the Finborough Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 20 minutes straight through.

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