“The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning”
Hats off to National Theatre Wales for making their latest production “The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning” (aka #ntw18) available as a live internet simulcast, in conjunction with its presentation in a number of Welsh schools (I managed to access it on my third attempt). Prior publicity suggested that it might be a piece of shallow agit-prop, using the life of the title character - the U.S. soldier and one-time West Wales schoolboy who is currently awaiting court-martial for leaking U.S. military secrets in relation to the Middle East to the Wikileaks website - as a blank canvas. I should have known better, of course – Tim Price is far too accomplished a writer for that. What we have instead is a cleverly structured, free-wheeling biographical drama, frequently shifting in time and place - a classroom in Haverfordwest, the streets of Iraq, a gay bar, the brig at Quantico - painting a sympathetic picture of a troubled and complex individual, played at various moments by different members of the talented cast (Matthew Aubrey, Harry Ferrier, Gwawr Loader, Kyle Rees, Anjana Vasan, Sion Daniel Young). The direction, by company supremo John E. McGrath, is slick (with scene changes accompanied by alarming outbreaks of Lady Gaga and Atreyu); the lighting and sound design (by Natasha Chivers and Mike Beer) impressively atmospheric (as far as I could tell on my laptop screen); the multimedia presentation (by Tom Beardshaw) a technical triumph (although one might question the wisdom of inviting viewers to click on web-links as the piece is proceeding). While the play answers (as far as a work of fiction can) several questions re Bradley’s motivations, and the U.S. Army’s handling of him prior to his act of heroism/treachery, its focus on him as an individual rather than on the wider political context means that other issues are unadressed (e.g. the wisdom of dealing with Wikileaks rather than a more reputable outlet, the possibility that Manning’s actions may have jeopardised military and civilian lives, the effect that the case will have on other gays in the armed forces, the nature of the toppled Saddam regime). I suspect that whether one believes that Manning is a hero or a fool (or both), one will leave the play with one’s opinions more or less confirmed, but with troubling questions swimming around one’s head – which is probably the ideal outcome for a piece of political theatre. Powerful stuff.