In Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me, a character’s fate is revealed to have changed during an innocent trip to purchase pears for a flan; a moment that reveals the importance, both negative and positive, of minutiae in life’s grand scheme.
It is a sign of good writing when one can see a play ‘cold’ and get the gist, and even better when this seeming simplicity is matched with fine acting: both occur in this revival of Frank McGuinness’s play from the 1980s where three men, an American Doctor (producer Lee Mead’s Adam), an Irish journalist (Edward, played by David Streames, who also directs) and an English Teacher/Academic (Richard Foster’s Michael), find themselves prison companions—hostage brothers in wall-chains, if not always in the easiest of arms—in the Middle East.
Both a stripped set design (Alicia Fowles) and a small venue (Cramphorn Studio) aid this exploration of the effect of imprisonment on the self and the double bind that, in an existential sense, we need others to remind ourselves that we exist. Conversely, the proximity of strangers can produce an overwhelming distaste that must somehow be managed if sanity is to prevail.
Over approximately 2½ hours, these three actors portray with humour, pathos and poignancy the men’s powers of imagination and visualisation (helped with some joyous and inventive miming) in order to punctuate unending time with moments of anywhere but here, and to assuage those intrusions of terrifying clarity where thoughts of family and loved ones can heal and harm in equal measure. The enactment of ‘letters home’ is particularly moving.
One particular moment of release is accompanied by clever use of lighting (Chris May, designer) that reveals, in a single flash, how dark it has been for these men, both figuratively and literally. It is a clever symbol of the sheer force of will needed to keep alight the light of the soul.
The play is produced by actor/singer Lee Mead’s newly formed production company in partnership with Chelmsford City Theatres and is a noble and welcome venture at a time when the arts needs encouragement and celebration for helping people make sense of their lives or even, like the play’s prisoners, find temporary solace and release. With just a couple more days to run, the hope is for more to come in the near future. As an aside, I can see this production transferring with ease to the West End.