Review: Hostage Song, Finborough Theatre

“Why won’t God deliver me, oh I may never know”

You don’t get many hostage stories in musical theatre so the allure of the Finborough’s Hostage Song was one that proved intriguingly strong, sufficiently so to overcome my natural antipathy to anything that describes itself as an indie rock musical. But though the band onstage is full of boys dressed in black who look like they need a pie, the music of composer and lyricist Kyle Jarrow, in conjunction with Clay McLeod Chapman’s abstract book, makes for a pleasingly different piece of musical theatre.

In an unspecified country (albeit one which has experienced some kind of US military intervention), reporter Jennifer and Pentagon contractor Jim have been blindfolded, handcuffed and kept prisoner by unseen captors. To pass the time and to help try and keep a hold on their sanity, they play games of I-Spy, tell stories of their lives in flashbacks (and forwards), even go on pretend dates to help keep spirits up. Chapman’s book shudders around this timeframe with a hallucinatory energy that always keeps us on our toes and thus makes the amplified indie rock seem a more appropriate choice.

Jarrow’s score sits a little differently in the show, soundtracking the action as much as pushing it along, sung mainly as it is by the band’s frontman Pierce Reid, serving an almost Brechtian-commentating role which emphasises and re-emphasises the bleakness of the situation. For there’s no lightness here, the eventual fate of at least of the hostages is revealed early on and the way that that impacts on the family back home is movingly, disturbingly portrayed (Reid multi-roling here with skill).

And with the kind of raw energy that comes from the music (which has at least one eminently hummable refrain that someone like Placebo should nick), a rawness to the performances also manifests itself. Verity Marshall and Michael Matus don’t deliver polished vocals and nor should they – they’re bloodied, bound and blind-folded and James Veitch’s production recognises that in encouraging the frayed edges and deep-seated passion that underlines two excellent leading performances. Maria Teresa Creasey and Matthew Hedben offer strong support in supporting roles and the whole thing adds up to something strangely affecting and effective.

Running time: 80 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 8th July

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