×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

London Theater Review: Mike Bartlett’s Snowden-Inspired ‘Wild’

With:
Caoilfhionn Dunne, Jack Farthing, John Mackay.

A twist on the Edward Snowden story, Mike Bartlett’s new play “Wild” is really an examination of rampant rational skepticism. If ours is a world in which nothing is what it seems and nobody can be trusted — and Snowden pretty much proved as much — how exactly do we go on living in it? In the play’s world premiere in London, Bartlett (“King Charles III”) holes up an American whistleblower in a Moscow hotel room with his rising paranoia and lets his world come tumbling down — something Miriam Buether’s design stretches to realize rather spectacularly.

Actually, “Wild” feels like a stage direction with a play tacked on. In its final five minutes, the whole thing turns on its head, and Bartlett and Buether turn the stage into a brilliant metaphor for a topsy-turvy world in which nothing is fixed. Until that point, however, it’s a fairly flat-footed affair that exists, almost entirely, to set up a finale.

Secluded in a soulless Moscow hotel suite, three days after undertaking the biggest data drop in history, Andrew — a jittery, joyless dude played by Snowden-a-like Jack Farthing — waits for someone to tell him what’s going on. In the event, two turn up: One, calling herself George (Caoilfhionn Dunne) and claiming to work for some tech bigwig stuck in an embassy; the other, also apparently George (John Mackay), claiming the same. It’s up to Andrew to decide which of them, if either, he can trust, and whether he has any other option.

With two manic interrogators (friendly but barbed) and a frazzled everyman under house arrest, Bartlett’s playing with literary allusions to Pinter and Kafka. Yet he finds neither the menace of the former, not the logical lunacy of the latter. Instead, the two spooks just seem a little off-kilter, too out-there for the real situation and not out-there enough to unsettle. With a fair whack of exposition and explanation, this is a talky play that press gangs its characters into moral debate. Anyone who’s thought about Snowden will have considered most of this long before director James Macdonald’s production begins.

In fact, Bartlett’s best lines of inquiry are specifically psychological, picking at the whistleblower’s motivations for his actions and the implications on his own life. Why would somebody give up their entire life, and perhaps even life itself, to reveal widespread corruption? Is it altruism or self-interest? Conviction or boredom? Vanity or naivete? Andrew isn’t the brightest — not dumb, but no Einstein — but with one click he’s secured his place in history. What next? What’s life when your legacy is already set?

But the real focus of “Wild” is what happens to a world with its cover blown. Do we build something else, or carry on, heads in the sand, as if nothing’s changed? Having pulled back the curtain, Andrew can’t be certain that the world behind it is any more real. The whisky in his minibar tastes odd. His desk phone’s an empty case. In outing mass surveillance, Snowden ensured he’d be spied on. He made his own fears a reality, and ensured any paranoia had a basis in fact. Whistleblowing was like waving at those watching.

Bartlett’s written for a specific space before — “Game,” for example, set a domestic drama in a shooting range — and here uses theatrical reality to expose reality as a set-up. Buether’s set reveals itself as just that: a set. Andrew’s hotel room folds itself away. Its walls fly upwards. Furniture flatpacks back down. It would be a coup de theatre were it not for the visible cracks and joins from the get-go, serving as telltale signs of what’s coming. Buether goes one step further — another huge twist that literally turns everything on its axis — but that’s spottable too. Spectacular? Yes. Contrived? You bet.

Buether (“Love and Information,” “Escaped Alone,” “Bend It Like Beckham”) can be the best designer in Britain, but she can also be the worst, and her sets sometimes squeeze the life out of plays by doing everything alone — a design solo — rather than creating a space to hold and illuminate the action. That’s what happened here and, if Bartlett’s play wasn’t quite so limp already, Buether’s design would have hobbled it. Which, you wonder, came first?

Popular on Variety

London Theater Review: Mike Bartlett's Snowden-Inspired 'Wild'

Hampstead Theater, London; 325 seats; £35 ($51) top. Opened, reviewed June 20, 2016. Running time: 1 HOUR, 40 MIN.

Production: A Hampstead Theatre production of a play in one act by Mike Bartlett.

Creative: Directed by James Macdonald; Production design, Miriam Buether; lighting, Peter Mumford; sound, Christopher Shutt; video, Matt Coombes; movement, Leon Baugh.

Cast: Caoilfhionn Dunne, Jack Farthing, John Mackay.

More Legit

  • Sophia Anne Caruso and Alex Brightman'Beetlejuice'

    How 'Beetlejuice: The Musical' Became a Broadway Turnaround Story

    Christopher Kuczewski is what you’d call a Netherling. It’s a reference to the netherworld inhabitants who populate “Beetlejuice: The Musical,” the off-beat adaptation of the 1988 hit film that’s becoming an unlikely Broadway turnaround story. And that designation, which has been given to superfans of the show, goes a long way towards explaining how a [...]

  • Lena Waithe'The Inheritance' Broadway play opening,

    Lena Waithe, Anderson Cooper Attend Broadway Opening of 'The Inheritance'

    “The Inheritance” pulls viewers in many directions — toward pain and hope, trauma and healing. It’s what brought stars like Andy Cohen, Anderson Cooper, Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew Broderick and Lena Waithe to Broadway on Sunday — a chance to heal, to remember and grieve. Also in attendance for the premiere at the Barrymore Theater [...]

  • Touching the Void review

    West End Review: 'Touching the Void'

    It shouldn’t work. Attempting to make effective theatre out of scaling a mountain, facing disaster thousands of feet up in the freezing cold and enduring a drawn-out facedown with death is surely a preposterous idea. Yet that is exactly what playwright David Grieg and director Tom Morris and his ideally meshed creative team have done. [...]

  • Hangmen review play

    Martin McDonagh’s 'Hangmen' Coming to Broadway in 2020

    Martin McDonagh’s “Hangmen” will debut on Broadway this spring, the latest in a line of West End transfers to the Great White Way this year. The play, which focuses on the second-best executioner in Britain dealing with his government’s decision to abolish his favorite form of doing away with prisoners, will begin performances on Feb. [...]

  • The Inheritance review

    Broadway Review: 'The Inheritance'

    The real hero of “The Inheritance,” Matthew Lopez’s thoughtful, moving and painfully funny play, is E.M. Forster, the celebrated English author of “Howards End,” “A Room with a View,” “A Passage to India,” and “Maurice,” that last a gay-themed novel published after his death in 1970. It’s quite the literary thrill to find the great [...]

  • Stephen Sondheim's 'Follies' in the Works

    Stephen Sondheim's 'Follies' in the Works as a Movie From Heyday, BBC Films

    David Heyman’s Heyday Films, whose credits include “Gravity,” “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” “Marriage Story” and the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts franchises, and BBC Films have secured the film rights to Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman’s musical “Follies.” “Follies” will be adapted for the screen and directed by Dominic Cooke, a four-time Olivier [...]

  • Tina Turner The Musical

    How 'Tina: The Tina Turner Musical' Tells the Icon's Traumatic Story

    It wasn’t the response Tali Pelman had hoped to receive. The group creative managing director of Stage Entertainment had traveled to Küsnacht, Switzerland, with one goal in mind: Convince Tina Turner that her life could be the stuff of a successful stage musical. “We walked in the door,” Pelman remembers. “Tina was already there, and she greeted [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content