“Courage is contagious”. “Not really. Not when there’s free wifi and Netflix”.
As part of Hampstead Theatre at Home, a number of productions have been made available for limited periods on YouTube. First of these – made available until 5 April, was Wild by Mike Bartlett.
Staged under the direction of Kevin Macdonald in 2016, Wild is a thriller set in an uncertain time (although references to Netflix suggest the present moment) and in an anonymous hotel room in Moscow.
Andrew (Jack Farthing) has been responsible for a leak of documents large enough “to bring down the United States of America”. He’s a bespectacled, studious idealist who believes his actions were for the public good. He appears to be in some form of house arrest, waiting for a visit from someone who works for an unidentified “him”.
In the first scene, a woman who identifies herself as “George Prism” (Caoilfhionn Dunne) arrives and launches into a sarcastic line of chat, stating that Andrew “changed the world three days ago” and inviting him to work with “them”. She’s unsettling and confident, intense and provoking.
By the time we (and Andrew) meet a second “George” in the person of John Mackay we start to doubt what we have seen and heard. Andrew finds things have changed even in his room; he’s tempted by treats to trust this new visitor, who again may work for “him”.
Wild is filmed in a range of styles including putting the whole stage in the frame as if from a static camera in the audience, through to mid-range shots and close-ups. It doesn’t feel particularly cinematic to start with, but the final scene is handled well and Miriam Buether’s design feels both convincing and slightly off-kilter.
I first noticed Dunne when she played John Proctor in The Crucible over at The Yard last year: she’s a credible and dynamic performer and gives the character of Woman here an unsettling edge. When she speaks of the effects of war you feel she has been there on the front line; yet she can be almost playful in her games with Andrew.
Farthing has had a great screen success in recent years as George in Poldark. At the time he appeared in Wild, the first series had aired but it was yet to catch the full imagination of viewers. As the whistleblower who slowly finds he is out of his depth, his performance is both physically and vocally persuasive.
Mackay is in some ways the stereotype of the piece: part spy, part thug. His scenes as the second George are good, and his playing of Andrew in matters of trust and mental torture are effective.
It is hard to judge matters like lighting and sound (by Peter Mumford and Christopher Shutt respectively) when you are not ‘in the room’ as an audience member, but there is an effective use of both to identify a change of scene, and the final moments of power play depend on them.
Wild considers how much information we give away as long as “the product is supposedly free”. It muses on the complicity of governments with companies and terror organisations in exchange for influence and power. It addresses the nature of existence if your papers have gone, everyone has stepped away from you, and there’s no one left to trust.
Unlike Bartlett’s recently revived Love, Love, Love, Wild isn’t particularly funny in its observations, but has more of a dark, dystopian wit. It sits well with what I can remember of his 2011 play 13, with its central crusading figure hoping to rid the world of wars.
All images in the body of this post are screencaps from the play recording. The header image is by Stephen Cummiskey.