"There were three bollocks in a cell in Lebanon. An Englishman, an Irishman, and an American. Why they were in that cell was anybody's guess, and why they were in Lebanon was their own guess." (p. 17)
This is how one of the characters describes their own situation. It sounds like the beginning of a joke and indeed, humour-light hearted as well as black-gets its fair share in McGuinness play. But it never truly manages to conceal the desperateness of their situation.
Having been kidnapped for political reasons unknown to them, by people who are only referred to as 'Arabs' or 'the Enemy', the three hostages have to cope with the daily challenge of fear and monotony. While their captor's strength 'depends on silence' as one of the characters observes, their own depends on communication. There are savage fights between the three as well as gentle understanding, uproarious laughter and deep grief. The play takes the audience on a rollercoaster journey through the horrors of captivity, the balm of memory and the unbreakable strength of friendships forged in dire circumstance.
The play is inspired by the true story of Brian Keenan from Northern Ireland, who was kidnapped in 1986 shortly after taking up his position as a lecturer of English at the American University in Beirut. He was released in 1990 after talks between the Irish and the Iranian government. Most of the four years and five months in Lebanese captivity he spent together with John McCarthy, a British journalist. McCarthy had in fact come to Beirut to make a documentary about the hostage situation and was kidnapped shortly after Brian Keenan. The two men became close friends. When Brian Keenan was released he said that to leave behind his co-hostage was 'like losing an arm'. John McCarthy was not released until August 1991 after more than five years in captivity.