The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning
5 stars *****
Pleasance at St. Thomas of Aquin’s High School (Venue 17)
SOMETIMES, a show appears on the Edinburgh Fringe that is so timely, so sharply topical, that it seems as though it must have been created yesterday. The National Theatre of Wales’s Radicalisation Of Bradley Manning is not a brand-new show; it was first seen in April in Haverfordwest, the Welsh town where Manning spent some of his teenage years.
Yet the military verdict on Bradley Manning was handed down just two weeks ago, finding him guilty of all but one of the grave charges against him; and now, the NTW’s terrific show about the shy US army intelligence specialist who became the source of a huge wave of Wikileaks revelations about US foreign policy and the Iraq War is drawing huge, excited audiences to the converted school hall at St. Thomas Of Aquin’s, which, in director John E. McGrath’s fluent and passionate production, becomes a series of US bases across the United States and Iraq, and also a classroom in the comprehensive school in south Wales where Manning learned his first lessons in radicalism and rebellion, and their limits.
In style, McGrath’s production follows John Tiffany and Steven Hoggett’s mighty Black Watch, using the choreography, strict discipline and simmering violence of army life to create a series of unforgettable stage pictures; in a brilliant gesture that mirrors the “I am Bradley Manning” website recently set up to support him, every one of the cast of four men and two women plays Bradley at different times, signalling the shift by simply assuming his trademark pair of thick spectacles. And what emerges from this fierce 100 minutes of theatre is not only a shocking indictment of the brutal and relentless homophobia of US military life, which rejected, bullied and alienated Bradley Manning over a period of years; but also a more subtle critique of the mixed messages sent to young men and women by a western culture which – like Bradley’s Welsh schoolteacher – reveres the radical rebels of the past, but, in the present, reacts to any breach of discipline or convention with a fierce, repressive violence, and a demand that we conform, or be silent.