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National Theatre of Wales- The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning , Tasker Milward School Haverfordwest , April 13, 2012
At National Theatre by National Theatre of Wales- The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning The National Theatre of Wales’ eighteenth production is an important piece of theatre, not just for the company but for theatre in Wales. One strand in theatre’s legitimation is its engagement with modernity. It is not the only strand, it is not the most important one, but a theatre that lacks it is a feeble thing with half a heart.

“The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning” is not political theatre in the sense that it is about the process of politics. It is not a dramatisation of a dialectic of conflicting stances. Bradley Manning may, as an early line says, be a Daniel Ellsberg for our times but that is not the play’s theme. It is political theatre in that sense that Michael Billington wrote after a session with David Hare on 27th March: “What it can do is inform, illuminate…raise awareness: sometimes, if we're lucky, all at once.”

Tim Price’s dramatic territory is akin to that explored by Julian Mitchell in “Another Country” and Peter Cosminsky in “Britz”. His subject is not the what of the action that leads to the dreadful incarceration, but the why. Structurally, the play cuts back and forth in time. The action leaps from school- the one in which the audience is sitting- to gaols in Virginia and Baghdad, to boot camp, university campus and street protest. Out of this kaleidscope of compressed experience emerges an insightful, convincing picture.

John McGrath’s production has a surge of modernity to it; that is crucially different from topicality. Chloe Lamford’s design wraps fifty monitors around four lighting poles. Mike Beer’s tremendous sound design takes in Lady Gaga and the radio cacophony of the urban battlefront. Tim Price includes a key scene that pitches the alienated young soldier amongst a group of Massachusetts computer science students. A libertarian hacker speaks of government being stripped of its information monopoly in the same way that Gutenberg took away that of the mediaeval Church.

One of the early rapid-fire lines speaks of the slovenly security that creates the leaks. Government has a passion for data gigantism. That means that everything is hackable, from rogue hardware inserted into ATM readers in their Chinese factories to call centre staff selling off reams of names and addresses. With every word and action digitised, nothing is secret. The script has a chilling description of a room filled with screens showing over and over a helicopter gunship chasing a group of civilians. At one point a keyboard is brandished, truthfully, as the weapon it has the capacity to be.

But theatre is not journalism. It works because it is action. John McGrath gives the production a driving narrative. The actors work with no more than a table, six chairs, a couple of guns and a few artful scarves and glasses. This drive is assisted by a clever piece of writing. Tim Price has made all six actors play his lead character, effected visually by a technique that is as simple as it is utterly clear. The cast of six have a youth to them that fits wholly with the subject. Matthew Aubrey, Harry Ferrier, Gwawr Loader, Kyle Rees, Sion Daniel Young and Anjana Vasan change at speed from school kids to students to soldiery.

In 2010 Kilburn’s Tricycle Theatre took “the Great Game”, a collection of twelve plays about Afghanistan, to the USA to play to diplomats, soldiers and policy-makers. Not a single Welsh writer was included. “The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning” puts right that gap. It is not the apex of political theatre. Its linkage to the Newport Rising and the Rebecca Riots looks more like cultural pride in a tradition of radicalism than a convincing part of a psychological forming. But it has authorial conviction, directorial flair and moral passion to it. The steps taken by the authorities against Prevention of Injury (POI) are appalling in print; their staging sears.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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