We see it a lot in spy dramas: a mysterious operative meets a person at threat and on the run, offers them support and the individual often accepts with little to no hesitation. However, in Mike Bartlett’s Wild, the person in question has a lot of time to think about it.
In this case, it’s Andrew (Jack Farthing), an American who’s currently residing in a hotel room in Moscow having blown the whistle on his Government. The immediate comedy within his position is that the aforementioned operative (Caoilfhionn Dunne) isn’t really taking the situation as seriously as you’d expect, complete with a jubilant swagger and lines delivered with an exaggerated wink. On the surface, it’s a humorous response to an unusual situation, but underneath it is an extraordinary case of power playing. Who has the upper hand? How can you actually trust someone?
With all its curious commentary on trust, truth and security coming before the Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2018 prompted us to consider our online privacy, watching the 2016 production almost four years later is no doubt a different experience to what it would have been at the time. If anything, it serves as a frustrating reminder of the same relevant issues and conversations several years on.
There is, however, one particular idea which feels new in amongst the post-truth dialogue. While discussions have continued over the concept of absolute truth and truth now being individualised, the same hasn’t really been said much for individual freedom. Trapped inside the hotel room (incredibly designed by Miriam Buether for reasons which become apparent), Andrew’s freedom is as much a question of physical freedom as it is informational freedom in terms of his whistleblowing. It’s a fascinating thought which feels neglected in the debate and is opened up by Bartlett, though it is left to rest with little development. Granted, some of it comes down to the audience processing these ideas – not least in the well-placed moments of silence in between dialogue – but it could certainly have gone deeper.
Though on the topic of silence, how its used in the production is an excellent directorial decision from James Macdonald. In Dunne’s scenes, her character – known only as Miss Prism or ‘George’ – and her eager reluctance to have a single quiet moment not only cements her as a restless individual, but turns conversation into a thrilling, bewildering back-and-forth. Contrast that with Andrew’s interactions with the deadpan tone of George (John Mackay, not the other one) and it becomes a whole new haunting power dynamic. As an audience member, you soon find yourself relating to the utter bewilderment and headache Andrew is probably experiencing. It’s mind-bending, but in a good way.
It’s helped by the delightful contradictions and dichotomies, too, for which in Wild, the play is full of them. There’s government power vs technological power, views on authority turned upside down. You’ll love it. Or will you?
Wild played at the Hampstead Theatre from 11 June to 24 July 2016. It is now available to watch online until 5 April.
Production Images: Stephen Cummiskey.