About 15 minutes into Mike Bartlett’s Wild I was beginning to wonder whether I had made the right selection to begin my #30plays30days odyssey (after all, I knew I had at least 40 other possible choices). 15 minutes before the end I was totally hooked and wishing I could have seen a live performance. This video version of the play is released as part of the Hampstead Theatre At Home project.
Back in 2013, Edward Snowden stunned the world when he revealed the extent of state surveillance in the USA claiming the violation of basic democratic processes and constitutional rights. Andrew, the protagonist of Bartlett’s play, is clearly heavily based on the whistle blowing Snowden being in the same circumstances, the same age group and even physically resembling him. Like Snowden, Andrew has fled to Russia and finds himself holed up in a hotel room where he is visited by two people both of whom claim to work for “him” (presumably Julian Assange) but who seemingly do not know each other and give somewhat contrary advice. Gradually Andrew’s (and our) sense of reality starts to shift until we are left in a world where nothing is what it seems anymore and all established norms have been turned on their heads.
Jack Farthing’s Andrew is a quietly dominating presence on stage, slightly geeky but sincere in his belief that he has done the right thing. Sometimes articulate, sometimes withdrawn and haunted, his rapidly developing insecurity is demonstrated in his nervous fiddling with the foil from a chocolate wrapper. Gradually he becomes as much of a victim as he claims the rest of the world is and there are shades of Kafka in the way his story develops. Farthing’s is a subtle performance that eventually pays dividends and evokes the audience’s sympathies.
The first of Andrew’s visitors, calling herself George, is played by Caoilfhionn Dunne. She is a rather manic, somewhat unstable figure (particularly when she appears drunk – although is she?) given to over emphatic gestures and face pulling. I have to say I initially found Dunne’s performance rather mannered and annoying – it certainly made me want to side with Andrew. But on reflection I think this was a deliberate choice by the actor and therefore rather cleverer than I at first gave her credit for. The second visitor, also claiming to be called George, is an altogether more quietly threatening figure (straight out of Pinter) whose every action, even the unzipping of a briefcase, exudes menace. John Mackay, playing George 2, got full value out of the character and contrasted him nicely with George 1. They are clearly the basic “good cop, bad cop” double act – though perhaps before starting the characters should have decided who was going to play which role.
Mike Bartlett, once again, challenges and provokes in his writing though the rather flat footed first section, probably necessary for the overall development of the play, was less than engaging. And it could possibly be argued that the entire piece is only there to set up the final game changing denouement and thus takes its time in getting there. It is a rather “talky” piece which argues that we are all helpless in the face of bigger developments (well, they got that right anyway!) James Macdonald, as he always does, directs with precision and an eye for fine detail.
The play is set in a nondescript Russian hotel room although for Andrew it is virtually a prison cell. Designer Miriam Buether does a first-class job although the full extent of her genius isn’t revealed until the last quarter of an hour. To say she provides a breath-taking coup de théâtre is an understatement and must have been entirely stunning seen live in the theatre. However, it’s still pretty spectacular on video as the themes of the play are made physically manifest and the audience is left scratching its collective head as to how it was done.
Production photos by Stephen Cummiskey
If you have a spare couple of hours (and who doesn’t at the moment?) I can recommend this streamed version of Wild from Hampstead Theatre. It is only available until April 5th here – so hurry
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