Let's start with the ending as that was our favourite bit. Chaos gives way to violence that gives way to song that gives way to ribald dancing that gives way to death on a darkening stage. A 19 year old English soldier, held hostage in a Dublin brothel, is taken hostage in revenge for the planned hanging of a young IRA man in Belfast. A pointless and pitiful end arrives amid a confusion of comic folk song and dance.
Set in 1958, The Hostage is a loud play, populated by grandiose but seedy people that are all flawed. It's entertaining and unstoppable, there are few pauses or quiet moments, but it's dark. We don't get to know any of the characters well, none have any depth. They're all bold caricatures - some sexy, some camp, some nostalgic, some ridiculous. But they all seem hopeless, concerned by some vague bigger cause but caught up in the petty frivolities of a down at heel boarding house. The young people are shallow and the older people's unreliable reminiscences are full of faults.
We found this staging a struggle at first, but the performance drew us in more once the hostage actually arrived, once it had a focus and it started to build towards its tragi-comic climax. Written by infamous playwright and drinker Brendan Behan, it's the first time The Hostage has been performed in London for over 15 years, a revival the Southwark Playhouse are shouting about. It was interesting to watch this at a time when Northern Irish politics are headline news, to see some context to current negotiations, be that background in a somewhat exaggerated and farcical form.