Set in an Irish brothel that serves as a one-night jail to a charming British soldier, The Hostage does have a lot of fun with its characters and their allegiances. Anybody might be some sort of UK spy, and songs abound to disprove that. And the crew that runs and resides in the brothel comes to like the boy quite a lot. So will they allow him to die or save his life before morning? That synopsis makes the play a little clearer than it actually plays onstage.
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Early life[ edit ] Study from life of Brendan Behan by Reginald Gray , Egg tempera on wood panel Behan was born in the inner city of Dublin at Holles Street Hospital on 9 February into an educated working-class family. She remained politically active all her life and was a personal friend of the Irish republican Michael Collins. The title was from the affectionate nickname Mrs. Behan gave to Collins.
Kathleen published her autobiography, "Mother of All The Behans", a collaboration with her son Brian, in A passer-by remarked, "Oh, my! In he also became the youngest contributor to be published in the Irish Press with his poem "Reply of Young Boy to Pro-English verses". At sixteen, Behan joined the IRA and embarked on an unauthorised solo mission to England to set off a bomb at the Liverpool docks. He was arrested by British law enforcement and found in possession of explosives. As Behan was only 16 at the time of his arrest, British prosecutors tried to convince him to testify against his IRA superiors and offered in return to relocate him under a new name to Canada or another far away colony of the British Empire.
Refusing to be turned, Behan was sentenced to three years in a borstal Hollesley Bay ,  once under the care of Cyril Joyce  and did not return to Ireland until He wrote about the experience in the memoir, Borstal Boy. Behan was found guilty and sentenced to fourteen years imprisonment. Aside from a short prison sentence in for trying to break an imprisoned IRA man out of an English prison in Manchester , Behan effectively left the organization, though he remained friends with Cathal Goulding.
In Mountjoy he wrote his first play, The Landlady, and also began to write short stories and other prose. Some of his early work was also published in The Bell , the leading Irish literary magazine of the time.
He also learned Irish in prison and, after his release in , he spent some time in the Gaeltacht areas of Galway and Kerry , where he started writing poetry in Irish. He left Ireland and all its perceived social pressures to live in Paris in the early s.
There he felt he could lose himself and release the artist within. Although he still drank heavily, he managed to earn a living, supposedly by writing pornography.
By the time he returned to Ireland, he had become a writer who drank too much, rather than a drinker who talked about what he was going to write. He had also developed the knowledge that to succeed, he would have to discipline himself. Throughout the rest of his writing career, he would rise at seven in the morning and work until noon—when the pubs opened. He began to write for various newspapers, such as The Irish Times , and also for radio, which broadcast a play of his entitled "The Leaving Party".
Originally called The Twisting of Another Rope and influenced by his time spent in jail, it chronicles the vicissitudes of prison life leading up to the execution of "the quare fellow"—a character who is never seen.
The prison dialogue is vivid and laced with satire, but reveals to the reader the human detritus that surrounds capital punishment. It was produced in the Pike Theatre in Dublin. The play ran for six months. Subsequently it transferred to the West End. The English, relatively unaccustomed to public drunkenness in authors, took him to their hearts.
Behan loved the story of how, walking along the street in London shortly after this episode, a Cockney approached him and exclaimed that he understood every word he had said—drunk or not—but had not a clue what "that bugger Muggeridge was on about!
The transfer of the play to Broadway provided Behan with international recognition. Littlewood remained a supporter, visiting him in Dublin in The hostage falls in love with an Irish convent girl, Teresa, working as a maid in the house. Their innocent world of love is incongruous among their surroundings—the house also serves as a brothel. In the end, the hostage dies accidentally during a bungled police raid, revealing the human cost of war—a universal suffering. His autobiographical novel Borstal Boy followed in An original voice in Irish literature boomed out from its pages.
The language is both acerbic and delicate, the portrayal of inmates and "screws" cerebral. In one account an inmate strives to entice Behan in chanting political slogans with him. Behan curses and damns him in his mind, hoping he would cease his rantings-hardly the sign of a troublesome prisoner.
By the end the idealistic boy rebel emerges as a realistic young man who recognises the truth: violence, especially political violence, is futile. Kenneth Tynan , the s literary critic said: "While other writers hoard words like misers, Behan sends them out on a spree, ribald, flushed, and spoiling for a fight.
In very militant Irish republicanism , Irishmen who served in the British Army during World War I are traditionally considered to have been traitors. Also, Behan is known to have always had a deeply troubled relationship with the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland.
Even so, Behan is also known to have deeply admired Father William Doyle , a Dublin-born priest of the Society of Jesus , who served as military chaplain to the Royal Dublin Fusiliers as they fought in the trenches of the Western Front.
Father Doyle was ultimately killed in action while running to the aid of wounded soldiers from his Regiment during the Battle of Passchendaele in Behan expressed his affection for Father Doyle in the memoir Borstal Boy.
The Nolans saw his theatrics for what they were: a device to conceal an exquisitely sensitive nature. Behan found fame difficult.
This combination resulted in a series of famously drunken public appearances, on both stage and television. The public who once extended their arms now closed ranks against him; publicans flung him from their premises. A daughter, Blanaid, was born in By early March , the end was in sight. Collapsing at the Harbour Lights bar, he was transferred to the Meath Hospital in central Dublin, where he died, aged Gregory Hemingway.
Brendan Behan died two years later, having never met his son. Behan is frequently mentioned in works of popular culture. His work has been a significant influence in the writings of Shane MacGowan , and he is the subject of "Streams of Whiskey", a song by The Pogues. It was a critical success and is being revived for a tour to Theatre Row in New York in September before returning to the Lyric in October
Plot[ edit ] The Hostage depicts the events leading up to the planned execution of an year-old IRA member in a Belfast jail, accused of killing a Royal Ulster Constabulary policeman. Like the protagonist of The Quare Fellow , the audience never sees him. The action of the play is set in a very odd house of ill-repute on Nelson Street , Dublin , owned by a former IRA commandant. The hostage of the title is Leslie Williams, a young and innocent Cockney British Army soldier taken hostage at the border with Northern Ireland and held in the brothel, brought among the vibrant but desperately unorthodox combination of prostitutes, revolutionaries and general low characters inhabiting the place. During the course of the play, a love story develops between Leslie and Teresa played by Marie Rafferty  a young girl, resident of the house. Both are orphans living foreign to the city they find themselves in, Teresa being from Ballymahon , County Longford.