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Powerful and riveting Captive Hearts at the Etcetera Theatre

Captive Hearts by Paul BridgerThe powerful and riveting true story of the time hostages Brian Keenan and John McCarthy spent together in captivity has been brought to the stage by Paul Bridger – a project he has been working on since 2004 and an enterprise he calls a labour of love.

Irascible and aggressive Irishman Keenan finds it hard to take laconic and wise-cracking Englishman McCarthy at first but their plight – endless days of being blindfolded, beaten and chained to a radiator in the same room – brings them together so that they inspire each other, support each other and ultimately their captive hearts become intertwined.

It’s difficult to call this a thriller as we know – at least most of us do – the outcome: not so much happy-ever- after as freedom with scars. It is, though, thrilling, captivating and gives us a real sense of what it must have been like and how it played with their emotions and f*cked their minds.

Mark Moore as Keenan is violent and demanding and excoriating but, under all that, there’s an innocent sensitivity: the scene where he grapples with his captor and is beaten soundly for his trouble is realistically raw and when he tells McCarthy after it that it was actually a release – “I needed that, so did the guard: I forgive him” an extraordinary sense of the strength in vulnerability of the human condition is powerfully transmitted. It’s a stunning performance and I have no doubt that Keenan himself would recognise every iota of spirit as well as every last personality flaw in Moore’s portrayal.

He has a great foil in Dan Burman as McCarthy. The joker, ever ready with the flippant remark, unable – or unwilling – to take anything seriously he is the polar opposite of the intense, highly strung Keenan. But in all probability he stops Keenan going completely over the edge, with his jokes, his japes his songs and his improvised games. In the process McCarthy learns just as much about himself as about Keenan and Burman’s is a complete performance, teasing out every little whimsical nuance from McCarthy’s temperament and gives us every dark corner of his psyche.

There’s an extraordinary rapport between these two actors and they play off each other with a naturalness that is rarely seen on stage. They fight, they bicker they play and ultimately they love in that primeval, desperate way that those interred and cut off from former realities do because they have to. Moore and Burman get this and they allow us to get it too.

Carlos Mapano as their Jihadi captor-guard flits easily from the amenable custodian to sinister tormentor and adds an ambivalent edge to the hostages’ claustrophobic incarceration. When they are left to their own devices for two days, with Ipcress-style music blasting their ears incessantly, he claims that he was asleep in a cold bath which adds a surreal and farcical tenor to the proceedings. It’s difficult to play important second fiddle to the two protagonists but Mapano handles this well and is realistically effective.

Bridger uses projections as a reality stream, informing us of the historical punctuation marks in the narrative and this is a fruitful device (but techos should remember that laptops need to be constantly refreshed to prevent them going into sleep mode with unwanted screen displays). We are consumed by the brutal hopelessness of it all and are constantly prompted to ask ourselves whether we could survive such an examination of our souls.

I find it hard to believe it is 25 years since McCarthy was released, after 1,943 days in captivity, so injuriously it was seared onto my consciousness at the time. Paul Bridger’s play reminds us, in these apparently never-ending troubled times, that life is precious and there is an extraordinary strength in comradeship.

5 Star Rating

Review by Peter Yates

Paul Bridger’s intense one-act play opens on August 8th at the Etcetera Theatre in London, as part of the Camden Fringe festival – 25 years after McCarthy was released from captivity.

Bridger, from Rochester said: “I had contacted John a while ago to let him know about our plans for the play but never really expected to hear anything back, so we were totally blown away when he emailed this week.

McCarthy wishes Paul and his team well with the play and says: “It is wonderful that our story has inspired you – I hope the show goes brilliantly.

Captive Hearts promises to put the audience in the shoes of the hostages – appalling them with the brutality while uplifting them with the indomitable spirit of the hostages and revealing the human side of their captor.

Bridger says: “During four years held together their Anglo – Irish relationship, is at times frayed, but the more they learn about each other, the more they learn about themselves. I’m thrilled to be taking Captive Hearts to the Camden Fringe – the intimate atmosphere of the Etcetera Theatre is a perfect match.

Captive Hearts
August 8th 9th 22nd 23rd 24th 8.30pm Tickets £10
The Etcetera Theatre (above the Oxford Arms)
265 Camden High Street, London NW1 7BU


  • Peter Yates

    Peter has a long involvement in the theatrical world as playwright, producer, director and designer. His theatre company Random Cactus has taken many shows to the Edinburgh Fringe, the London Fringe and elsewhere and he has been associated with the Wireless Theatre Company since its inception where his short play Lie Detector can be heard: Wireless Theatre Company.

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