Wild, review of Mike Bartlett's new play at the Hampstead

  • Our critic's rating:
    Average press rating:
    Tuesday, June 21, 2016
    Review by:
    Mark Shenton

    Mike Bartlett is one of our most provocative and individual playwrights: you never know what he's going to do next. From a kaleidoscopic portrait of modern London life in Earthquakes in London (seen at the National) to a claustrophobic, voyeuristic portrait of a couple who allow strangers to shoot darts that send them to sleep in exchange for housing in Game (at the Almeida), and from a chilling account of office politics in Bull (Young Vic) to an imagined political future that follows royal succession in King Charles III (Almeida, West End and Broadway), there's hardly a contemporary playwright working who surprises more.

    His latest provocation Wild starts out looking conventional enough: a 28-year-old man is on the run in a Russian hotel room, and is visited in turn by two people -- possibly there to protect him, possibly to interrogate his motives. It's not just that Jack Farthing, the actor playing him, bears a passing resemblance to Edward Snowden but also that the circumstances are nearly identical that put one in mind of that world changing (and life changing for him) release of documents that showed the extent of state surveillance; and as they play a cat-and-mouse game with him, Bartlett rehearses familiar arguments about trust and how that fundamental contract has been breached: by the state, but also by this young man. And at a high cost to both.

    So far, so relatively familiar -- though worth hearing again. But as often with Bartlett, there's a big trick up his and his director James Macdonald's sleeve that skewers everything that has gone before.  I'm not going to give it away here, but suffice it to say that we can't always believe where we are, let alone believe what we see.

    Designer Miriam Buether delivers a coup de theatre that provides an astonishing denouement to the play -- both virtually upstaging it, in every sense, but also proving its thesis.

    Wild by Mike Bartlett

    Directed by James Macdonald, Hampstead Theatre, 11 Jun - 16 July 2016.

    What the Press Said...

    "Mike Bartlett’s new play is not a journey, or a story. This is a ride — a funfair ride ."

    Ann Treneman for The Times

    "The production’s wizardry can’t compensate for the limpness of the writing, which prefers faintly amusing and largely predictable twists to meaty arguments and characterisation."

    Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard

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