Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Acclaim for Tim Price Play

At National Theatre Wales

The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning- National Theatre Wales , Pleasance at St Thomas of Aquin’s High School , August 16, 2013
At National Theatre Wales by The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning- National Theatre Wales From Time Out

“First produced in Welsh schools in 2012...John E McGrath’s dizzying National Theatre of Wales production comes across like ‘Black Watch’ jacked up on acid and technology, a playfully stylised eruption of noise and light in which the six-strong, military uniform-clad cast recount the events that led to Manning illegally releasing huge amounts of classified US Army material to Wikileaks, interspersed with a deliberately fanciful imagination of his radical Welsh schooling.

“Price’s smartest move is to distance us from Manning, whose story is told in non-linear order, in oft surreal vignettes, with the cast taking it in turns to play the troubled young man. It never feels preachy, or romanticised, or hagiographic, or even tragic, even if Price’s sympathies clearly lie with the young man.

“Sympathy isn’t the same as fondness, however, and in Price’s eye-popping docu-drama the kaleidoscopic multitude of Mannings come across as a whiny and condescending lot. But that makes him oddly more convincing: from school age to adulthood, his life is defined by an irrefutable, almost anal sense of social justice – the impression we’re given is of a deeply troubled young man who did what he thought was right after being appointed to a job he almost certainly shouldn’t have been appointed to.”

From A Younger Theatre

“With Bradley Manning found guilty of twenty charges and facing up to 136 years in a military prison, Tim Price’s The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning feels all the more important now than it did in 2012. It’s a quick, sharp play which attempts to understand the events which led up to Manning’s leaking of secret document to WikiLeaks in 2010. Though the trial is not featured, it savages a system which sees things as black or white, demonstrating that individuals are the sum of everything that leads up to the present moment. And in John E McGrath’s sexy, stylish production, it is suggested that we are all capable of making decisions like Manning.

“Covering ten years, Price looks at both Manning’s school years in Wales as he learns about revolution and rebellion, and his experience within the US army as a homosexual pretending to be something he isn’t. His background thus gives him both the tools of understanding and the reason to try to make a difference, with discussions of martyrdom peppering the text in order to help both him and us contemplate his position in the history books.

“McGrath’s production – produced by National Theatre Wales – is intelligently set in a school. As we walk through to the auditorium, we hear commands shouted from corridors and soldiers cleaning guns in classrooms. Entering the space, the screens show the famous ‘Collateral Murder’ video leaked by Manning, and we instantly recognise the importance of his actions.

“Six actors play all the parts in the play, with each taking on the role of Manning at some point in his life (Matthew Aubrey plays him with a brash naivety at the start and the glasses get passed through everyone before reaching the geeky and awkward but quietly confident Harry Ferrier at the end). He thus becomes a symbol more than a man, a figure who can mean something different to everyone and is seen through different lenses at different stages of his life.

“Chloe Lamford’s design takes on the sense of a military drill hall, with towering poles loaded with lights and computer monitors and American flags on chairs and blankets. The relatively small space is made vast by Natasha Chivers’s cold, forceful lighting design, which shows those around Manning to be unaware of his thoughts and lacking empathy. Then there’s a glitchy, New Aesthetic-y sound design from Mike Beer, which plays excerpts from the files leaked and allows music to explode out of the speakers at key points in Manning’s life. The final moment is joyful and celebratory, as he makes the decision to make his mark and stand up for what he believes.”

From the Fringe Review

“Bradley Manning has for many come to symbolise the challenge we face in balancing liberty and security, and as such will perhaps come to be seen as one of the most iconic figures of the early 21st century – for good or ill. When one individual stands for so much within our collective imagination, it is as vital as it is fascinating to understand who they are and what motivates them, and that is the agenda of this impressive production by National Theatre Wales, originally produced for secondary school audiences.

“On the way in to the theatre, the audience is led through the corridors of St. Thomas of Aquin’s High School, passing a number of open doored classrooms. In each sits a uniformed soldier, some exercising or holding weapons, who fix their expressionless gazes on us as we walk past. This is a highly distinctive and powerful tool in establishing the intensity and seriousness of the material. Upon reaching the performance space, we are confronted with a stage area dotted with a large number of surveillance screens, adding to the effect.

“The rest of the play takes us through Manning’s life after his return to the USA (where he was born), up to and including his three year incarceration. Though many moments are captivating, the pace of scene changes becomes exhausting; it is quite apparent that it was written for an audience than can barely make it through a five minute Youtube video without losing concentration. But despite, or because of this, it’s a production full of slick bits of group movement, lively staging and a varied soundtrack that ought to keep people of all ages engaged. Each of the six young actors plays multiple characters, with all six portraying Manning himself at one stage of his life; the object used to donate the protagonist is a pair of chunky framed glasses, a simple and clever idea given their common association with social misfits.”

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Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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