NTW’s Brave New Political Drama
The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning
National Theatre Wales
Watched via live stream
Performance at Connah’s Quay High School, Flintshire
28th April 2012
Bradley Manning is the new kid at school and “it’s your job to make sure his head doesn’t get flushed down the toilet until at least Thursday.” In NTW’s brave new production it always feels like Bradley is the new kid; scared, lonely and a little bit odd.
As only Tim Price’s third play the writer has taken on a tough and possibly legally challenging story. Based on the true events in the life of US soldier Manning’s life, this piece of fiction seeks to ask why would he allegedly release 250,000 secret cables and logs about the Iraq and Afghan wars to WikiLeaks?
Manning is currently awaiting trial in the US after spending ten months in semi-solitary confinement at Quantico. But it is the ten years before this that Price is interested in; when he spent time in Wales with his mother, worked dead end jobs to try and fund a college education and eventually joined the army because after four years service they will pay for his tuition.
Another Dead End Job
Played throughout by all six of the very strong cast Bradley is never a fully sympathetic character. As we see him struggle with his sexuality, apparent issues with cross dressing and the divorce of his parents he always comes across as difficult and a little bit whiney. Having said this you can’t help but feel protective of the young boy entrusted with military secrets well out of his depth.
NTW are known for their unusual choices of performance venue and this production was no different. The action took place in school halls across Wales including the one that Manning attending during his time in the country. This was not the only performance outlet, in an attempt to create a ‘hyper-connected’ theatre event the live performances were streamed online to a dedicated website for anyone to watch free of charge.
Although this was a highly innovative and inspired idea that enhanced the impression of constant surveillance it wasn’t 100% successful. The usual online issues of firewalls, dodgy wireless connections and system failures left some audience members disappointed. Hopefully these glitches won’t put NTW off doing this kind of thing again; it really gave a different feel to the performance although nothing can compete with seeing the action live.
In places the performances were genuinely touching (although perhaps stretching artistic license) especially as we see Bradley being put in the shoes of Welsh revolutionaries in history class. Other scenes were simply mind blowing as heavy metal introduced us to FOB Hammer, Bagdad and Lady Gaga provided the score for Bradley’s feeling of freedom as he copied the relevant files over to re-writable CDs.
Throughout it was thought provoking. In a talk with his father to ask for help with college fees his father asks “Do you want to be a man and join the army or do you want to be gay and work at Starbucks?” In reference to the army’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to homosexuality.
The episodic structure gave glimpses into all the institutions that have let Bradley down all the way through his life. These transitions were seamlessly navigated by director John E. McGrath with the aid of Natasha Chivers’ superb lighting design. Brave, bold and what NTW is all about!
In the end we are left with the question “Is it Bradley’s actions or ideas that threaten?”
All these people really deserve a mention and a huge congratulations:
Cast: Matthew Aubrey, Harry Ferrier, Gwawr Loader, Kyle Rees, Anjana Vasan, Sion Daniel Young
Writer: Tim Price
Director: John E. McGrath
Designed by: Chloe Lamford
Lighting design: Natasha Chivers
Sound Design: Mike Beer
Multi-Platform Design: Tom Beardshaw
Review and photos by Chelsey Gillard
Exclusive photographs taken at the social media call at Cardiff High School
For more information on why Tim Price chose to write about Manning read his interesting and informative blog on the Guardian website.
For more reviews please visit: www.hypercriticreviews.blogspot.com