Nestled in Kensington just a short walk from Gloucester Road tube station, The Drayton Arms Theatre is set above a rustic corner pub that offers an extensive food and drinks menu. The theatre itself seats only 50, so provides the audience with an intimate look at this harrowing and powerful account of an American hostage held by Arab terrorists in Beirut.
The two rooms of the title are the room in which the hostage, Michael (Richard Atwill), has made his nest, and a room in his house in America, which his wife Lainie (Catherine Skinner) has stripped of furniture, so that at least symbolically, she can try to share his ordeal. The stage is stark, featuring only a worn out mattress in one corner (designed by Roberto Surace), and with basic but effective lighting design by Dan Crews. It provides the locale for imaginary conversations between the married couple. When enhanced with a chair, it occasionally becomes the setting for conversations which Lainie has with a reporter, Walker Harris, and Ellen Van Oss, a representative of the US State Department. Lainie expresses her anger and frustration that her husband’s release still hasn’t been fixed, and when Walker pushes her into speaking out against US tactics, it creates a downward spiral of events which lead to the play’s harrowing end.
Atwill does a decent job of acting the prisoner, who we later learn has been held captive for nearly three years. His speech about how he observes time is a poignant one, and lets us imagine the incomprehensible suffering that character Michael has been through. Skinner, too, provides a strong performance as the equally suffering wife, though sometimes lacks the vulnerability that would allow us to really feel for Lainie. Thomas Vilorio’s turn as Walker is probably the strongest performance of the four, convincing not only Lainie, but also the audience, that the government’s ineptitude is hindering the release of the captured man.
Joanna Bool shines as Van Oss, particularly in the second act monologue about her previous work, which allows us to see why she deliberately detaches herself emotionally from work, and enabling Lainie to see the bigger picture in a hostage situation. MaryClare O’Neill’s direction works well with the video installation by Dominic Coddington which is showing some images of real-life captured people as the audience enter – again, adding another dimension to just how scarily real the whole story is. The play focuses not only on the tragedy that the captives themselves have to go through, but also the terrifying grief that affects the people left behind and their daily lives. It becomes a play that leaves you with a sense of despair that, after all the work that is plumbed into trying to release a captive, seems fruitless when there are others that are willing to commit a barbaric act so freely.
Two Rooms is playing at The Drayton Arms Theatre until 25 May 2013. For more information and tickets, see the Drayton Arms Theatre website.