Review of The Hostage from Plays and Players, 8/59


(WEBMISTRESS'S NOTE:  This article originally started out with a review of The Complaisant Lover; I have included here only the portion relating to The Hostage.--db)




Keep Britain Black

Richard Buckle reviews The Hostage




The Hostage


By Brendan Behan


House of Whores


My burst of song above was no doubt a result of Brendan Behan's play, which is one third sing-along and which has changed my life.  I keep sending out for more Guiness, breaking into rousing choruses and filling the house with whores.


The other delightful thing about The Hostage--apart from its being one-third sing-along--is that the author takes the mickey out of English and Irish in equal proportion.


Of course with Miss Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop productions one never knows how much is author and how much inspired, swashbuckling director--but that is ideal so far as I am concerned.  I'm all for everybody mucking in.  The Hostage seems to be the triumph of mucking in.   It doesn't read as well as it acts, but why should it?


Everything about The Hostage is fun--good, dirty fun.  You have to hand it to Behan--to take the last night in the life of an English soldier held as a hostage by the I.R.A. and shot at down, then to turn it into a farcical musical comedy is some feat.  There are marvellous crazy ideas in the show, not least that the action takes place in a lodging-house in Dublin run as a brothel (male and female) without the knowledge of its owner, a barmy idealist Englishman who has espoused the cause of the I.R.A., who plays the pipes and is called Monsewer, but still has pangs of nostalgia for cricket at Harrow on summer afternoons.  He is the only character who can speak Gaelic.  The others--thieves, whores, ponces and queers--don't know what he is going on about half the time, but respect his mania.  Howard Goorney as the adaptable caretaker and Eileen Kenneally as his sharp-tongued partner are admirable and carry half the play.  The Cockney hostage in his ill-fitting battledress is a darling, and his one-night romance with the orphan skivvy jerks a few welcome tears from a house exhausted with laughter. Alfred Lynch, who was good as the Welsh boy in Lindsay Anderson's amazing production of The Long and the Short and the Tall, has popped across the courtyard to take on with zeal this smashing part and to voice the feelings of us all in his immortal reply to Miss Gilchrist, the social worker:


MISS GilchrisT:


Would you live on woman's earnings

Would you give up work for good

For a life of prostitution?


SOLDIER:  Yes, too bloody true, I would.


When you like a show very much you sometimes get annoyed with yourself for carrying on about it at length , without really succeeding in suggesting its special flavour, and you want to fall back on quoting great chunks.


Turks and Layabouts


In case I forgot to say so before, The Hostage is packed with humor, life, poetry and satire; and it's just my slice of salami.  We Irish are just a lot of hopeless, useless, loud-mouthed Turks and layabouts, and we English are just plain bloody; but sure 'tis a fine thing after it's fighting each other we have been all these years that we can get together in a public place and enjoy a laugh and a cry over each other and the hate we bear to each other.


Could The Hostage be given in Dublin?  I ask because I want to know.  (Somebody leans over my shoulder and says, "They'd laugh their heads off at the jokes against themselves , but the sex part wouldn't get by the censor.")


Let us conclude with a chorus which, although the whole play is printed in PLAYS AND PLAYERS, I may be excused for quoting, as the sung text differs from the printed.

I love my dear old Notting Hill,

Whenever I may roam,

But I wish the Irish, the Niggers and the Wogs

Were kicked out and sent back home.

Anyway, it helps to fill the page.