General Admission took on a new meaning too, with the audience collecting their chairs from uniform clad soldiers, and choosing a ‘square’ to place it in allowing, to an extent, voyeurism to occur on the audience’s own terms.The set, designed by Chloe Lamford, was minimal. The perimeter of the stage was marked with four 12ft lighting rigs holding computer monitors at every angle that showed P.O.V. footage of a helicopter based sniper. The bleak images of the war torn town, coupled with the loud, intrusive hum of the craft, shouts from the combatants and the occasional ring of an evacuation alarm, set my nerves slightly on edge as I watched the rest of the audience take their seats and choose their viewing spots. This was the first hint of the multiplatform format engineered by Tom Beardshaw, in conjunction with Tim Price (Writer) and John E McGrath (Artistic Director).
The opening was a highly charged list of all the statements you can imagine might have been made about Bradley Manning since the Wikileaks “scandal” began – soldiers discussing the whistleblowing actions of a fellow soldier became a squabble between teenagers, trying to make their opinions heard. What followed was a dynamic, engaging, thought provoking performance that immersed me fully into the story of Bradley Manning, from his High School days in South Wales to his incarceration. Every moment appeared planned down to the second. Every movement, sound (Mike Beer), look, lighting sequence (Natasha Chivers), prop, word had specific meaning and intent. This was an intricately devised piece that made every second worthwhile. I could not pull my eyes from the action!
The six players were present within the auditorium at all times, using the shadows as ‘off stage’. More often than not the entire company was on stage, taking on multiple roles, showing real diversification. They slipped easily in and out of American accents, and all had a turn at ‘being’ Bradley Manning, giving the sense that Bradley Manning has become an idea – something we all have an opinion about; something we all share in one way or another. The ‘flashbacks’ to the High School History classroom gave the characters the opportunity to fully explore themes of martyrdom, of men being punished for their thoughts, whilst focussing on Welsh battles and uprisings. The stark contrast between the innocence of High School and the harsh horrors of life in the U.S. Army also helped evoke a true empathy for the main character, and an understanding of what may have influenced his life to land him in the situation he is still in now.
The performance was fluid, switching seamlessly between scenes, the monitors notifying the audience of when and where the story had moved to at each moment (Baghdad, New York, Haverfordwest) – though if you missed it, the costumes, lighting, set changes and accents all worked as indicators, without being too ‘obvious’.
The entire cast was superb, and extremely convincing in every role they took on. I thoroughly enjoyed each individual performance, and found Bradley’s story particularly compelling because of the different angles given to it by the multiple players. Matthew Aubrey and Harry Ferrier shared the majority of the part, and each contributed to the feeling I now have – that I in part know and understand Bradley’s problems. For me, this is stage play at its best.
Alongside the thought provoking issues and the electric dialogue, there were some very humorous moments, and one unexpected dance sequence that could have seemed absurd but, in fact, gelled perfectly with the plot point, emphasising the idea that, in the 21st Century, you can become a Superstar with one click of the mouse.
In order to interact with The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning in all its multiplatform glory, and just because it was that good that I already want to see it again, I’ll be watching the live streaming of the show on nationaltheatrewales.org/bradleymanning/ before the run ends on 21st April. I would highly recommend you do the same.