Reviews Edinburgh Published 12 August 2013

The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning

Pleasance Courtyard ⋄ 6th - 25th August 2013

An urgent theatrical response.

Billy Barrett

‘I am Bradley Manning’, ran the slogan during his trial, as high profile figures and commentators lobbied for the intelligence analyst’s acquittal and the world waited for a verdict. In Tim Price’s dramatisation of his life and leaks, an ensemble of six actors each play Bradley Manning, taking this much talked-about production to the Fringe just weeks after the court-martial. It’s an urgent theatrical response and a slickly executed spectacular that foregrounds Manning’s personal experience within the political shitstorm, examining what drove a soldier to commit an act of conscience and raising questions about whistle-blowing, martyrdom and freedom of information.

The story unfolds more thematically than chronologically: Price states that he was drawn to Manning’s story primarily because of his Welsh background, and as such the narrative darts between imagined schoolboy scenarios in Haverfordwest, a young adulthood in the States, and his deployment to Iraq. The boy’s desire to escape the poverty and seclusion of rural life is suggested, and Price clearly articulates what he sees as the great tragedy of the story – that Manning never wanted to join the military, and only did so to fund his higher education. In Iraq, separated from his boyfriend Tyler and ground down by the macho culture of the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’-era US military, Price focuses on Manning’s isolation rather than the actual content of the leaked files, crafting a moving drama that touches nerves beyond this specific case.

The cast is uniformly strong, as each actor passes on the mantle of Manning on top of conjuring the rest of the supporting characters – Welsh school kids, US army grunts and Anti-Prop 8 marchers all fill the stage as costumes are efficiently shed and accents slip from one to another with precision. Manning’s relationship with Tyler is handled with particular care, evoking real sympathy when it begins to fall apart. Each actor manages to shed a different light on the protagonist, and the picture is gradually painted of a bright, impulsive and impassioned young man within a brutal system.

The National Theatre of Wales’ production values are high, which its designers match in creative ingenuity. Staged in thrust, we’re surrounded by screens that run reams of code spliced with dates and locations for the scenes and intermittent clips of Lady Gaga, to whom Manning famously listened and lip-synched to whilst uploading documents to Wikileaks. John McGrath’s direction is full of inspired touches, and the production climaxes on a glorious image that intelligently encapsulates the drama of the piece.


Billy Barrett

Billy is a third year English & Theatre student at Warwick University. Between reviewing and studying he writes, directs and acts in theatre.

The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning Show Info

Produced by National Theatre of Wales'

Directed by John McGrath

Written by Tim Price




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