Review by Naomi Cardwell
Hostage is the therapy Melbourne needs in 2022. Emerging, as we are, from some of the world’s most rigorous series of COVID-19 lockdowns, it feels as though Melbourne women in particular are survivors of our own private hostage situations which collided work, love and family and crumbled our facades.
Julia, Marg, Barb, Zoe and Lucy are five workers at the local bank who used to think they knew each other well enough, until the day they find themselves trapped in a room together, facing the unknown as a tense standoff unfolds outside. Cerise de Gelder is the kind of playwright who loves to lure her characters into mundane surroundings and gleefully slam the doors shut, trapping them with their choices and amping up the stakes. As the tension of Hostage mounts, truths begin tumbling out which redefine the close-knit group of colleagues, leaving us to wonder: after crisis hits, can our relationships ever really be the same again?
The cast are wickedly funny and desperately relatable. Ruth Katerelos deploys just the right mixture of meekness and steel in her portrayal of Marg, while Natasha Broadstock as Barb, the team leader, polishes her sturdiness into a poignant and noble shine as the play unfolds. Cosima Gilbert’s light touch and optimism suit the bubbly Lucy to a T, and Del Jordan’s unforgettable opening line introduces us to a character who clings to her modest aspirations as her world crumbles around her. Marli van der Bijl’s deadpan “Patty” fits right in with the group, who reduce her to just another punter struggling to get a mortgage. The standout performance belongs to Charmaine Gorman, whose acerbic Julia is the verbal ringmaster of the piece, bursting bubbles of sentimentality before they can form with her withering remarks and perfectly-timed sarcasm. As an ensemble, the group only need to lean in harder, let the zingers rip, and allow the obvious warmth between them shine through.
From the Spice Girls mix we enjoy while we find our seats to the hysterical arrangement of the cast for their final bows, director Elizabeth Walley’s humour and uplifting brand of feminism are evident throughout the play. What’s clear in this piece, which so aptly portrays the fierce camaraderie which forms among “the girls” at work, is that Walley lives her values and builds a theatre workplace where women thrive together. The costumes are pitch-perfect, with the bank’s variety of uniform options appearing to cater to individual tastes while flattening its wearers into a homogenous group. This makes the little traces of individuality which leak out the sides all the more hilarious, from Barb’s flustered hairdo to Marg’s contorted, people-pleasing body language and Lucy’s incessant bouncing blond curls.
There are moments where the tension does sag a little, and this makes the play vulnerable to distractions. A small disappointment on the opening night was the repeated intrusion of some loud equipment noise throughout the performance, which was persistent enough to cost the play some of its momentum. Distractions are inevitable in live theatre, and some tightening of the dialogue and confidence on the cast’s part should help pull the audience’s focus back to where it needs to be.
In all, though, this latest offering from the Melbourne Writers’ Theatre makes for the night out with the girls we all longed for during lockdown. With a brisk one-hour running time, it goes down perfectly with a glass (or two) of bubbly from the Gasworks Theatre’s cosy bar. Touching, uplifting and hilarious, it’s a hard-earned celebration for all us hostages now we’ve finally been released.