The other day I had a message from gmail, telling me that there had been ‘suspicious activity on my account’, and I was now locked out of my email. Rushing to prove my identity and log back in, I discovered that someone or something had attempted to hack into my email from Thailand. With the relief that they hadn’t succeeded, and dismissing the attempted breach as a silly bot, I quickly forgot about the incident and returned to my normal life. But later that evening I went to see Wild, the newly commissioned play currently running at Hampstead Theatre, and it made me think twice about it.
Written by Mike Bartlett (Chariots of Fire, King Charles III, Doctor Foster) and directed by James Macdonald (No More Shall We Part), it is inspired by and loosely based on the Edward Snowden Affair and broaches many of the same themes brought up by the event – information, security and politics. But it’s something quite different to a truthful contemporary political documentary, for Bartlett has dug deeper to present us with not just a play, but a thought piece.
There are three main characters; Andrew (Jack Farthing), our Snowden character -a quiet, contemplative and intelligent American echoing Snowden himself; a ‘Woman’ calling herself George (Caoilfhionn Dunne), who is highly humorous, eccentric and often spine-chilling; and finally ‘Man’, a stern British-voiced agent, also going by the name George, played by John Mackay.
The majority of the action takes place in a hotel room in Russia and Miriam Buether has designed an evocative re-imagining of those we see in the Snowden documentary, Citizenfour; various shades of beige, furnished with a simple bed, a few chairs and a mini bar. More importantly there’s a small TV on the wall – Andrew’s only real window to the outside world, and as the play progresses, we get the sense of time passing from the varying diurnal light emanating from the windows (Peter Mumford). This room isn’t just claustrophobic and intense, it’s Andrew’s prison, and without an interval, the audience feels very much trapped along with him (in a good way).
We soon realise that this is no documentary. It is pure drama. Andrew is plagued by two ‘agents’ who visit his hotel room and try to convince him to join their side in return for protection and freedom from the shackles of his walls. Both claim to be sent by the same person, or ‘Him’, as they say, and Andrew’s task is to decipher who to trust, but it isn’t easy. Seeing himself as a bastion for the freedom of information, he doesn’t want to sell out and have his desperate situation utilised for their own personal gain. Conversation rattles back and forth. Andrew begins to stress with the thought of assassination attempts, and the play gains more and more tension as we worry whether or not he is doomed to die. George I, or ‘Woman’ reveals that she knows what clothes Andrew likes to wear, whom he has been dating, when they split up, where he has lived, in fact, she knows more about him than he knows himself.
While we might not be able to relate directly to his situation, we can relate to this. We all peacock our lives to the world knowing full well that by doing so, we lose our right to privacy and that anyone with an internet connection can make a few clicks and discover our most personal details. As I recalled how quickly I had dismissed the hacking attempt on my email I shuddered to see that I too was part of the stereotype. Even if I had wanted to shut down my account, my connections, where would that leave me? Do I really have options or am I as imprisoned by connectivity as Andrew is imprisoned by his revelation of high-security information? This play brings with it so many questions, and so little answers. I won’t ruin the incredible ‘how-did-they-do-that!’ ending of this play for you, but suffice it to say the entire story makes full use of the extraordinary technical facilities built into the stage. If you enjoy a political and thought-provoking head f*ck, then this play should definitely be on your list. Wild might just change the way you see the world.
Wild at Hampstead Theatre, until 23rd July 2016. Running time approximately 1 hour 40 minutes with no interval. For more information and tickets please visit the website.