Text: Edward Fortes
Movement Director: Ali Baybutt
Director: Bethany Pitts
Reviewer: Mel Duncan
Private Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning has been imprisoned for 1410 days.
This simple chilling fact greets the audience as they enter the theatre, projected in a simple white font, on a simple black background. This piece of theatre challenges the very basic morals on which our beings survive. What is right?
The story of Chelsea Manning has been very heavily documented on our screens and in our newspapers. The US Army Private was charged with 25 counts surrounding the decision to leak classified information and video footage unearthed by Manning while in capacity as part of the Intelligence Division. Some of the footage leaked forms part of the visual show- and makes for disturbing viewing. Since Desert’s origins, Private Manning has been convicted and sentenced to 35 years in prison, the play has been adapted in this re-staging to take this into account. The play takes an interesting angle, rather than taking sides, a character who finds herself embroiled by accident at a demonstration takes on the tale.
Seamlessly dovetailing transcript with fiction, Edward Fortes describes himself as a dramaturg rather than writer of the piece, considering it a collaborative effort, his rôle being to record the play as it unfolded in the workshop phase. This is a wordy piece, and Fortes may be downplaying his rôle in conjuring scenes and descriptions- the script is spectacularly well written.
There is a very clever use of space – the cell confines are shown through lighting, sand, and even through movement. This intertwines with a clever use of AV- an integral part of the play. Bethany Pitts and Ali Baybutt have worked very hard to make a chaotic script sensical to the audience watching for the first time. These spaces are sacredly respected by the two characters on stage, and are a welcome convention given the stream of consciousness approach the play takes on.
Lucy Farrett is a striking actress. She commands the stage, and carries the narrative through the play. A multi-rôle part, simply entitle ‘her’, Farrett moves from naive girl to intelligence officer within a nanosecond, flawlessly changing demeanour accordingly. Giles Roberts seemed to struggle more with making sense of the very emotive text demanded by his character, misplaced emphasis giving passages very strange inferences, and confusion was unavoidable. The character was slightly mannered- that said, Roberts did have an extremely difficult job at hand, conveying not only the terror of confinement and the wikileaks story, but also the gender issues dealt with by private Manning at the same time.. To watch him on stage was a pleasure, a very physical actor. His whole body responses to the recorded calls of ‘Are you OK, soldier’ were terrifying.
Despite the flaws in realisation, this piece is fascinating – the writing is superb, and the team have a truly creative vision in delivery.
If you had unprecedented access to classified networks 14 hours a day, 7 days a week for 8+ months what would you do? Indeed- after seeing the treatment of Private Manning, is the right thing actually what our conscience tells us?
Runs until April 10