Monday, 11 July 2016

Mike Bartlett's WILD at the Hampstead Theatre, London

     The two strongest new plays I saw during my two weeks of London theatergoing were Ayad Aktar's THE INVISIBLE HAND at the Tricycle and Mike Bartlett's WILD at the Hampstead. Alexi Kaye Campbell's plodding allegory of the relationship between the U.S. and Britain, set during the Greek junta, was an uneasy combination of domestic drama and political commentary. I had raved about the New York production of THE INVISIBLE HAND in an earlier entry. The play seemed even more powerful in the claustrophobic production at the Tricycle.
     Mike Bartlett is still on his thirties, but he has given us a string of brilliant, very different plays from the minimalist COCK to the maximalist EARTHQUAKES IN LONDON. The main question is plays ask is whether contemporary individuals really have any agency. WILD gives us a version of Edward Snowden sitting in an anonymous hotel room in Moscow (is it really Moscow?) after pushing the "Send" button on all those NSA documents. Snowden is convinced that he is a hero whose actions have changed the world and a martyr to his cause. During the course of the intense, often hilarious one-act play, he is mocked, belittled, threatened and psychologically tortured by a man and a woman who are agents of some unnamed power. "We represent power," one of them finally asserts. At first the agents seem to want Snowden to become a spokesman for Russia, but Snowden is definitely not a joiner, but an ardent believer in the individual. By the end they want him to "join anything." Above all, they want to destroy his faith in the meaning of any individual action. Power rests on the fact that people don't want to know about the abuses of power. They are happy so long as they can get stuff for free via the internet. As one of the agents says, Snowden hasn't changed the egregious abuse of power, "You just pointed at it." But nothing is as it seems. The hotel room is not really a hotel room and by the end the laws of physics don't even apply. In a spectacular coup de theatre, Snowden's world is turned, if not upside down, at least at a 90 degree angle. The laws of gravity don't even apply. Bartlett has written a dizzying, funny, thought-provoking and funny play that turns downright scary. His vision is dark but the play is anything but.
     Director James Macdonald has captured the play's depiction of a man who has gone down the rabbit hole. Jack Farthing's quiet, determined libertarian hero is a foil for Caoilfhionn Dunne's depiction of the wacky, mocking unnamed female agent who alternates tearing the central character down with John MacKay, who plays her quietly menacing counterpart.
     WILD should transfer to New York. It's a terrific, funny, terrifying play.

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