The Hampstead Theatre is a cozy little venue up in North London, well away from the West End. It sits in a cozy residential neighbourhood that's practically a little town in itself. The theatre stages small and intimate plays by many of the biggest playwrights in the U.K. The free play this week is Wild, staged in 2016- from playwright Mike Bartlett, the berserk mind behind BBC melodrama Doctor Foster and Doctor Who, episode "Knock, Knock" for Steven Moffat and Peter Capaldi's final season.
This is just one of many performances the theatre will be offering via livestream every week on its YouTube channel, to help everyone stuck at home during the coronavirus pandemic pass the time in meaningful ways.
Wild starts out as Bartlett's take on the Edward Snowden story. Andrew (Jack Farthing), an American clearly based on Snowden, hangs out in an anonymous Moscow hotel room. He's on the run, his passport's been revoked. He's waiting for his contact, someone representing a Wikileaks-style organization. They have an offer from their boss, someone who sounds like Julian Assange, who's taken asylum in an embassy in London. Trouble is, can he trust whoever walks through the door to be who they claim to be? How can he even know?
A Play of Ideas and Paranoia
This is not a documentary play about the Snowden story. It's more a fantasia about Snowden and the Pandora's Box of issues, consequences and problems his whistleblowing opened. This is the type of play where the fights are verbal. Characters talk and debate big ideas about politics, but the talk about America's use of mass surveillance takes on a surreal dimension. Is there any real privacy or freedom left when our entire lives are put online? The play becomes increasingly Kafkaesque and bizarre just from that the characters talk about. Andrew is a bit of a cipher. It's never clear if he revealed America's surveillance secrets in an act of idealism, cynicism, frustration or clarity.
Caoilfhionn Dunne walks away with the show as Andrew's first contact. She plays the mysterious representative as a bizarre goofball combination of femme fatale and hot mess. She's politically savvy, streetwise and completely nuts, trying to convince Andrew to become a spokesperson for her organization. Then a deadpan Scottish guy (John Mackey), no less mysterious, shows up after she leaves and claims she isn't part of the organization. He warns Andrew darkly assassins amassing against him, and no one can be trusted.
Everything comes to a head in the final 10 minutes where one final twist turns the world on its head and changes everything. I don't know if the set-up leading to this ending truly works. The points about how nobody is truly free anymore in the digital age isn't that shocking or insightful, but it's an interesting 100-minute journey.
And hey, it's free! Why complain?
Wild is streaming from the Hampstead Theatre for free worldwide until April 10th.