‘Wild’ by Mike Bartlett – at the Hampstead Theatre

Wild book coverThe play running at Hampstead Theatre, Wild by Mike Bartlett [London: Nick Hern Books, 2016], directed by James Macdonald and designed by Miriam Beuther, deserves to go far. Ably and intelligently performed by Caoilfhionn Dunne, Jack Farthing and John Mackay, Wild presents us with that moment of post-cognitive dissonance in a whistleblower’s life. That moment when, just possibly if he wasn’t such a man of principle, he might just wish the deed undone. But it’s too late. Much too late. It was much too late the instant, that nanosecond after the irrevocable click of the mouse. And in the case of Andrew, whose story and appearance unavoidably reminds one of Edward Snowden, he has betrayed the United States. They do not do forgiveness. They might even (deniably of course) assassinate Andrew. Unless he surrenders. That would mean, at best, the rest of his natural life in isolation in a maximum security prison; pour encourager les autres. Right now, after secret flights and a press conference somewhere in Hong Kong, he appears, at the opening of the play, to be in a nondescript hotel room, presumed to be in Moscow. But one can take nothing on trust.

In the room with Andrew is a gangly young woman, acting like some slack-stringed marionette but with a sharp, probing tongue.   Alternately she’s a daft cookie trying to be cheerful in the trying circumstances and a forensic pathologist probing the wound and making Andrew reveal what she may already know. It’s all done with black humour like clever Yanks and spunky Brits are prone to do in the circumstances. But it’s never clear who she is working or for or why she is there, but it’s not the Russians. Well, maybe not. Then off she goes telling him to let no one in.

But in the next act someone does come in. He is a tall, business-like young man with a briefcase who gives him a bar of chocolate which we see Andrew devour greedily and then fuss with the silver foil for several minutes as they talk. The surprise is that the man denies any knowledge of the woman. He goes on to spell out for Andrew how easily he could be eliminated without his ever knowing how. It could, alarming thought now he’s eaten it, be in the chocolate. There are hints of Kafka creeping in here. The man leaves.

Time has passed, we are into the third act and Andrew has been left alone with his thoughts. The young woman returns, slightly the worse for drink. She further disorientates Andrew by denying any knowledge of the man. While Andrew worries about a future Armageddon, she wonders if there will still be wifi. Like the man, she seems to want to get Andrew to join ‘them’, unspecified, and ‘they’ will protect him but, she makes it plain, no join – no protection; and joining will have to be an act of faith. However, to gain his trust, she performs a small but painful and irreversible act of self-mutilation. The action is poised now. It could go one of several ways.

Which brings us to the final act about which no details will be revealed. Only to say that the final act of any play is a test for every playwright. He or she has set up the premiss, worked through the consequences and must now, if we are all to go home reasonably happy, take the action to a conclusion. Everything has been knotted up in the first three acts and there is need of a satisfactory dénouement. Mike Bartlett, the director and his designer Miriam Beuther contrive to make this an ending like few will have seen in any theatre. Indeed, I reckon this final act is why it’s worth going to the theatre to see the sort of staging that you cannot find on television or film. Highly recommended.

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See Wild free online – for a very short time!

A live performance of Wild was streamed from the theatre and can be watched online for free until 11.59pm on Tuesday 26 July 2016 at this web page:
https://www.hampsteadtheatre.com/whats-on/2016/wild-free-stream/

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