The hostage situation is both an inherently dramatic and an inherently static scenario. Suspense springs from the central jeopardy of the unanswered, life-or-death question: will these prisoners get out alive? But from an onlooker’s perspective, there is nothing particularly riveting about a group of people confined to one place and forced to play a monotonous waiting game. It is this tension, between the dramatic and the static, that stunts Jackinabox Productions’ new play.
Their premise has five characters trapped in a room of an office building, the hostages of unspecified terrorists who are demanding for prisoners to be released from Guantanamo Bay. In an attempt to keep the piece moving, co-creators John Askew and Hayley Thompson intercut the scenes of imprisonment with stories and memories related by the characters and shown through dance sequences. It is a promising concept, but one that is hampered by lacklustre execution.
Held back by plodding dialogue and incessant clichés, it is the movement segments which achieve the most clarity and emotional truth. The awkwardness of a first date becomes a clumsy, stuttering dance; the fevered addiction and heightened euphoria of the junkie are eloquently communicated through choreography. It is also through the medium of dance that the piece finally achieves some genuine poignancy, though it feels like too little too late.
There is, buried somewhere underneath the mundanely familiar stories that the prisoners tell, a fascinating moral and philosophical dilemma at the heart of their desperate situation. Is it better to go the utilitarian way of John Stuart Mill and accept that the sacrifice of a few might be to the benefit of the many, or should we, like Immanuel Kant, believe in the rights of the individual? This question is raised but never grappled with, as is the mirroring of the situation of these captives with their counterparts in Guantanamo Bay.
By the end of our hour in the company of these five individuals, little political, moral or emotional insight has been reached. From a foundation that promises so much, this production manages to drain any real tension and that life-or-death question that hangs in the air feels markedly less urgent.
** – 2/5 stars
99.9 Degrees is playing at C venues as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival until 27 August. For more information see the Edinburgh Fringe website.