By Karyn Hodgkinson
There are many bank heist movies out there, increasingly with female ‘bad guys’. However there are only a hand full of plays about bank robberies and they are mostly from the US and the UK. These plays are written from the point of view of the robbers and revolve around the comic trope of the ‘robbery gone wrong’. It is rare to find a comic heist play written from the point of view of the victims. Australian, Cerise de Gelder’s play, Hostage, is a unique exception. Her skill as a playwright combines spine-tingling tension with hilarity as incarcerated women, who know and work with each other, bring out their own big guns.
At 10.23 am on a Wednesday morning two bank robbers enter a bank. From that moment, the lives of 2 customers, 6 bank employees and 2 bank robbers will never be the same. The robbery itself happens off stage and there are characters referred to that we never see. Hence the play opens with 5 female employees (Barb, Marg, Julia, Zoe and Lucy) in a storage room at the back of the bank. Their lives hang in the balance. Unless the robbers get what they want, they will be ‘eliminated’, one per hour.
This premise creates an interesting structure for the play because at the end of each scene, one female disappears from the storeroom, ’taken’ by the robbers to the front of the bank to an uncertain fate. The characters in the storeroom are left wondering who will be next. Some volunteer to go next but the choice is not theirs to make. When only Julia and Zoe are left, Julia takes matters into her own hands. Next minute we see a robber regaining consciousness in the storeroom and unexpectedly, we find that ‘he’ is a ‘she’ – Patty, the female robber.
It is said that women can ‘cut to the chase’ when they come together. There is often instant understanding and a capacity to get to each other’s deeper concerns quickly. This is what happens when Patty meets Julia and Zoe and earlier, when the 5 work mates are thrust together under duress. They already know each other – in some cases very well. But under these traumatic circumstances truths come out that surprise, and hurt. As the characters reveal their foibles and secrets, there is much pathos, and a lot of hilarity. De Gelder’s clever ploy to have the female robber interact with the two remaining female hostages creates a kind of female camaraderie which gives a deadly twist to the end of the play.
It is a strong cast. Natasha Broadstock is convincing as Barb, the manager. She has a sense of authority but also vulnerability. Charmaine Gorman is strong as the no-nonsense Julia, who makes the most of her acerbic one-liners. Gorman brings an earthy authenticity to her role. Despite Julia’s failings, she finds her courage and she is a believable heroine at the end.
The major challenge of this play is to find the balance between the danger outside the storeroom, and the comedy. As it is, the performance emphasises the comedy over the threat and therefore lacks plausibility and power. We want to believe that the characters’ lives are actually threatened – this would raise the stakes considerably. Perhaps more attention could have been given to the sound design to create a sense of outside danger. Earlier, there was some ‘standing around’ by non-speaking characters. It would be satisfying to see them become more physically involved with the set and become more dishevelled as their ordeal progresses.
All in all, Hostage is a clever, and very funny play and an enjoyable night at the theatre
Images: Clare Mendes