Sophie Tice is captured by the student-written excellence, importance and resilience of Hostage, a fresh exploration of friendship, health and addiction with Sightline Productions. 

There must be few shows in DST History which have had such a combination of passion and pain thrown into their path as Hostage. Written and directed by Francesca Haydon-White, the play morphed from a late-night, booze-fuelled exploration of personal circumstances to, through Sightline’s development program, an original show of its own. To briefly and unfairly sum up a complicated journey, this two-person play travels over themes of friendship, addiction and eating disorders, questioning our self-conceived notions of blame, cause and rationality. And, what a triumph. Producing a student-written play on such important topics for the first time would have been challenging enough without the additional disruptions and dismays of COVID-19. Hostage was only a few days away from performance when lockdown measures were introduced. Everyone involved should feel incredibly proud to have produced a recorded show at all, let alone one which propels itself forward with such boldness, thoughtfulness and creativity as Hostage.

As such, I will not waste time critiquing the videography of the production. There were a few camera jumps or blurs, and sound levels naturally differed across the stage; however, these issues were small, inevitable from such a last-minute forced transition from a live to recorded performance and barely affect the play’s booming sense of narrative. Huge credit should go towards the entire tech team for their dedicated and creative efforts, led by Tech Directors Emily Rose Jupe and James Goodall. The lighting, controlled by Goodall, mostly focused upon the black square boxes upon which the two actors often sat, conversed and monologued, the subtly and spareness of the lighting and stage brilliantly highlighting their self-reflective journey. The camerawork by first-time techie Peter Firbank was admirable and allowed for many useful angles in the final product; I wish him the best of luck as he continues to grow within the exciting technical world. Meanwhile, Olivia Swain must be strongly congratulated on taking up the unexpected and time-consuming post of video-editor. The transitions were almost always slick, and the addition of a titular scene and credits added a valuable cinematic feel.  

Indeed, perhaps the greatest danger of small-cast and sparsely decorated show such as Hostage is that it could become too anti-cinematic – stilted, disengaging or repetitive. Fortunately, due to the brilliant script and directive work of Haydon-White, Assistant Director Ella Al-Khalil Coyle and Shadow Director Anna Pycock, all these possibilities were scrapped and reversed. From the very start, booming Rex Orange County, the show was arresting, only building its engagement potential as the illness and pretension of the younger central character intensified; the relationship between the actors took its opportunity to shine; and ambiguities in blame were explored. The show remained engaging through sheer variety, switching suitably between monologue, conversation and physical theatre to create a mesmerising and exciting whole. 

The directing team must be most praised for their use of movement. Among the general energetic blocking of the show, Sound Designer Lauren Billet’s clever use of popular music, Haydon-White’s experience in physical theatre and Al-Khalil Coyle’s expertise in choreography combined to produce immersive and emotionally expressive episodes of physical theatre. Indeed, my absolute favourite scene from the show involves the parallel dance of the older and younger Summer, shone in glowing red light. Initially mirroring each other, Young Summer splits off into physically-expressive turmoil while Old Summer watches on in anguished warning, the mouths of both moving but, trapped inside their own heads and without the ability to time travel, unable to help each other. Having already watched this scene five times already on my computer, I can only imagine with regret how even more powerful it would have felt on stage.

It is a credit to the actors in particular that, despite lacking the authentic atmosphere of the Assembly Rooms, I felt utterly connected to their characters throughout. Matilda Hubble is a revelation as Young Summer. She perfectly morphs into the different visions of Young Summer we see throughout the gradual development of her illness, capturing both her initial childlike jubilation and the sly, spitting vision of Young Summer so shocking to glimpse near the end with equal conviction. I was particularly impressed by her extraordinarily strong ability to convey emotion through physicality, most particularly when morphing into the crumbed and weak motions of a starving individual. Throughout, however, she maintains her character’s inner vulnerability and childishness, and keeps the audience’s sympathies despite the apparent efforts of the character at times. 

Jennifer Lafferty is her older counterpart. Although she has fewer opportunities to showcase her dramatic gifts through the more sombre character she portrays, Lafferty makes them count to the full whenever moments of more individual significance occur. Lafferty’s monologue on Old Summer’s inability to bear children is the most memorable of the play, exploring a lost future with heart-wrenching sadness and longing. Meanwhile, the success of the much-needed confrontation between Young and Old Summer, pretending and reality, is grounded in Lafferty’s strength and authority on stage.

Last but not least, the producers. Producers often have an crucial but unspoken role. However, given the scheduling nightmare I am sure resulted from the sheer volume of people self-isolating towards the start of term, co-Producers Lauren Brewer and Anya Chuykov deserve special mention for their hard work and perseverance. 

Overall, Hostage is a must-see. It is an excellent script transformed into an exceptional production with the help of an individually and collectively skilled cast and crew, persevering to release despite every obstacle thrown their way. I am glad that all your efforts have resulted in such a high-quality theatrical product of which you all must be deeply proud. More than this, Hostage combines such theatrical effectivity with real sensitivity and educational input on several incredibly important themes of society and health. Please take your own welfare into account before, while and after watching but, if you should choose to undertake the journey, I cannot recommend it enough.

Hostage is available to stream anytime until 7pm on Sunday 22nd November. Tickets are available on the DST website, and more information on the Sightline Productions Facebook page. 

Poster Design: Anna Pycock (Shadow Director).