Writer: Mike Bartlett
Director: James Macdonald
For Hampstead Theatre, here is a case of picking up where they left off before the current period of enforced darkness. The most recent production at the theatre was The Haystack, a contemporary spy thriller which debates the conflicts between state secrecy and press freedom, bringing back memories of this 2016 staging of Mike Bartlett’s play Wild, which is loosely inspired by the Edward Snowden case.
We find 28-year-old Andrew (Jack Farthing) in a Moscow hotel room three days after he has fled his native America, having blown the whistle on covert Government activities. He is greeted by a woman known as “George” (Caoilfhionn Dunne) who claims to be representing a mastermind who is “trapped in an embassy in the middle of London”. Miriam Buether’s bland set design has a 1960s look that is consistent with a city and country which could be caught in a time warp.
Farthing’s bespectacled, humourless, often statuesque Andrew contrasts sharply with Dunne’s animated, zany woman to generate screwball comedy which Bartlett’s witty writing serves well. However, the comedic framework denies the writer the opportunity to dig to the heart of the nature of betrayal to the extent that Alan Bennett achieves in his spy plays. We are left in no doubt that Andrew is a little boy lost, well out of his depth in a world that is alien to him, but the writer’s main preoccupation is with demonstrating that nothing in life is what it seems and all our conceptions are capable of being turned upside down.
For little obvious reason, other than to break up scenes involving Andrew and the woman, Bartlett introduces a third character, a man (John Mackay), a sterner, more threatening figure who also goes by the name “George”and claims to be representing the man holed up in a London embassy. His arrival drains the comedy out of James Macdonald’s otherwise well-balanced production and adds to a feeling that Bartlett could be stretching a slender idea just a little too far.
Being largely a series of one-on-one conversations, the play translates well from stage to screen up until it approaches its climax. At this stage, Bartlett and Macdonald contrive to make the play’s points in a visual way. No spoilers, but the production’s final scene includes one of the most stunning theatre effects in recent memory. Seen on screen, it is hard to believe that CGI is not involved somewhere, but those of us who were there in 2016 can verify that it all happens for real.
Wild is an amusing diversion, but it misses opportunities to explore issues of urgent concern in any real depth. As a result, this production is remembered for its closing images more than for what has gone before, which all feels rather too tame.
Available here until 22.00 (GMT) on 5 April 2020: