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Across the Festivals: The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning

Michael Cox finds the National Theatre of Wales' production to be a riveting piece of political theatre.

Bradley Manning is perhaps one of the great modern enigmas. The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning (****) asks: what do we actually know about him as a human?

Less than we think, according to John E McGrath’s production for the National Theatre of Wales. We might know the tabloid facts: a spotty military career, fed information to WikiLeaks, is gay/bi/transgender (stories and reports differ), seen as a hero/villain/traitor/saint/martyr…and as of last week sentenced to 35 years in prison.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Tim Price’s script is that he cares little about any of that. Instead, he poses one question: what makes a person question authority? Price doesn’t seem too concerned with supplying answers, though he does give a few reasons and scenarios that might or might not have led Manning to defy orders.

Are any of these true, and was he in fact justified in his actions? The play does not give definitive answers.

What it does give is an excellent theatrical experience. From the promenade journey into the auditorium to the final curtain call, McGrath’s staging is engaging and inventive. Backed by an excellent ensemble that not only play multiple roles but share the duties of playing Manning himself, the production moves at lightening pace. It jumps back and forth in both location and time, not only showing us a fictionalised childhood but also a (supposedly) accurate portrayal of his adult life. The theatre-in-the-round staging is well-balanced and ensures that the audience is up close to the dramatic action at all times.

The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning is not a radical production, but it’s pretty damned impressive. It is political theatre at its best: well-staged with solid acting and striking design. It also has the bravery to not force its opinions or ideas on the audience. It does, however, make you want to learn more, and it makes you want to reflect on what you think you know about current events.

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