June 20, 2016
Mike Bartlett has had a brilliant couple of years with the smash hit TV series Doctor Foster on BBC1, King Charles III winning Tony awards on Broadway and a whole host of his plays debuting and being revived in London including Game at the Almeida, Bull at the Young Vic and this, his new play, Wild at the Hampstead Theatre.
The setup of Wild is one that everybody in the audience will recognise, as US citizen Andrew (Jack Farthing) holes up in a soulless Russian hotel room after leaking data to an organisation whose founder lives in an embassy. Although not referred to by a name, this is clearly a play based heavily upon the Edward Snowden case and all the paranoia that comes with such a situation.
As the play begins, he chats to a woman (Caoilfhionn Dunne) about a variety of topics as he seeks to find out exactly what the plan is now. She is rather more carefree and flighty, neither confirming nor denying that he will get to speak to her boss, a Julian Assange-type, but neither really managing to tell us anything at all in regards to a plan, Naturally uptight, Andrew’s personality begins to unravel as the true magnitude of what he has done lies heavily on his shoulders.
To say any more would be to spoil it in a way, though the programme does mention another character in the form of ‘Man’ (John Mackay). Such naming of these characters seek further to show the alienation that Andrew is experiencing; if he can’t even convince his apparent allies to reveal their names, who can he actually trust, especially considering what he’s just done. It’s all faintly intriguing but does risk rather going round in circles as the play heads towards the final act, which thankfully is where the play really comes to life in a way that I personally have never experienced. Suffice it to say that everybody in the room will be stunned as the final curtain came down.
It wouldn’t do to write a review of a play and only credit the actors and writer when it is clear James MacDonald has directed the piece with an assured hand. It’s not easy to make something interesting in a static location but MacDonald manages this with aplomb, though certainly aided by Bartlett’s whip smart dialogue and Miriam Buether’s set design. The play is funny when it needs to be but mostly just zings along at a good pace, refusing to allow the audience to stay motionless for too long.
The questions that Bartlett asks essentially come down to whether the whole data dump was worth it for Andrew; in effect, will the world change? For him it certainly has but to the public, perhaps not. It’s certainly a thoughtful point and though it does briefly threaten to not actually go anywhere (and you certainly fear for a few minutes that this might actually be the point of the production), you can head to see Wild at Hampstead Theatre safe in the knowledge that you’ll be thinking about it for days to come thanks to the astonishing final moments. If this doesn’t receive an Olivier nomination in at least one category – and you’ll know which one after you see it – then we’ll be incredibly surprised.
Wild runs until 16th July and you can buy tickets here.
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By Henry Fosdike