Behan’s Wonderland

By Lisa-Marie Griffith

The HostageLast night I went to see Wonderland production’s  The Hostage currently playing at the Pearse Centre, 27 Pearse street. I thoroughly enjoyed their adaptation of Moliere’s The Miser last year at the Joyce Centre on North Great George’s Street. This was particularly enjoyable because it was enacted in eighteenth-century dress in the beautiful georgian rooms in the Joyce Centre and the production took full advantage of this; the backdrop really encouraged the audience to get into the play by sitting them right in the middle of the plot as it unfolded. While I know very little about Brendan Behan, I know he was a notorious drinker, I purchased tickets for The Hostage on the strength of Wonderland’s production of The Miser. I will think twice about walking into this trap again.Peter Crawley of The Irish Times believes  The Hostage may be the maddest play ever written’ and after seeing this production I would have to concur. The arrest and sentence to death of a young IRA man in Belfast prompts the IRA to capture a British private on service in Belfast. They hide him in a Dublin brothel and this is where the chaos ensues. The house is populated by prostitutes, pimps, transvestites, ex-IRA soldiers, an orphan, a missionary,  and even a civil servant all of whom are  shagging each other as well as the customers. Well, all except the sad, lonely orphan! I don;t want to give too much away but this prompts a sickly sweet love story between the hostage and Behan’s very own orphan Annie- taken in and given a job by the manger of the brothel.

If the backdrop and characters prompt confusion, the themes of the play certainly will. Love, sex, marriage (or lack thereof), religion, the Irish language, nationalism and war in Ireland are all introduced as themes but not covered to any satisfactory extent. This may, perhaps be due to the fact that most of the 150 minutes of the play (that could of been interval included) are taken up with singing and often dancing thrown in for good measure. This I found particularly nauseating; By no measure a fan of musicals, they make me feel especially  uncomfortable, the songs could be taken out or at least shortened to the benefit of this play. That said, there was no possibility that you would fall asleep during the production. This is a very high energy play and there is always something going on to keep you occupied but usually there are two or even three  things going on to keep your attention.

The main problem I had with this production, apart form my own personal dislike of musical theatre, was the setting of the play. Placing the production in the Pearse Center shows how far nationalist sentiment and our unwavering loyalty to nationalist figures has changed but the size of the rooms where the audience were seated and the play was enacted brought the spectators a little too close to the action. Just three rows back out of five, I couldn’t help feeling like I was still a bit too close to the actors. With fourteen performers acting, singing, dancing and playing instruments the play seemed like far too much in such a small space and was chaotic and by the end overwhelming. Be wary and research all plays before you walk in blindly off the street!

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