National Theatre Wales, Cardiff high school
Clare Brennan, The Observer, Sunday 22 April 2012
National Theatre Wales
Kyle Rees, Anjana Vasan and Matthew Aubrey in National Theatre Wales’s The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning. Photograph: Farrows Creative
In the centre of the school gym a square is marked off by four tall poles. They bristle with speakers, lights and monitors. Between them, humped like a hill, is a green tarpaulin. A soldier in combats pulls it back: under glaring lights, on a bare table, lies the curled form of a near-naked man. A voice barks: “Detainee 4333453, are you OK?” In a high-security military base in Quantico, Virginia, Bradley Manning is under “personal injury” observation.
Manning, as many will know, is the US army private who is supposed to have passed a shedload of classified information to WikiLeaks back in 2010. He was held in semi-solitary confinement at Quantico for 10 months, until April 2011, and is still waiting to be tried. Less well known is the fact that Manning also spent a spell as a pupil at a secondary school in Haverfordwest, Wales. His experiences in these flawed institutions, as imagined by the playwright Tim Price, form the core of this uneven agitprop-style drama.
Fractured scenes – at times repetitive, at times searing – illustrate the development of an innocent individualist, aggressed and bullied by authority figures as well as fellow pupils and soldiers. Six able young actors take turns to play this fictionalised Manning (and all other characters) as he learns about Wales’s history of civic dissent and discovers abuses of power in Iraq. He is not so much radicalised by these encounters as compelled to recognise that civic responsibility involves taking action against injustice. Does he act? The play does not say. What it does do is confront the audience with the question: do we think he should have?