The Haystack

Oliver Johnstone: "The Haystack questions whether mass surveillance is necessary"

Sophie Thomas
Sophie Thomas

If you had the equipment to be able to find out anything you wanted to online, how deep would you search? That's the decision two computer geeks have to face as they're recruited into the national defence security team, using cutting-edge technology to investigate a questionable journalist.

Exploring the consequences of surveillance in the present day, Al Blyth's world premiere of The Haystack asks what happens when methods develop faster than the law.

Ahead of the official opening night, we asked Oliver Johnstone about how The Haystack is inspired by current events and whether he'd be good at keeping secrets.

The Haystack is at the Hampstead Theatre to 7th March.

What happens in The Haystack?

It's quite hard to say without giving anything away! I'll try... a pair of GCHQ analysts are ordered to surveil a Guardian journalist in the interest of national defence, but boundaries are crossed and one of them becomes dangerously involved in her life.

Is The Haystack inspired by previous current affairs, if so how do they relate to one another?

There are nods to the Edward Snowden leaks, and references to current news stories but ultimately Al has written a hugely original thriller, using the paranoia around how our data is being used as a backdrop.

Your characters are recruited into the national defence information security team - but are you good at keeping secrets in real life?

Yes. I absolutely am.

Why do you think that 2020 is the right time for a play like The Haystack to receive its world premiere?

Mainly because it's set in 2020. In an age when our data has become the world's most valued commodity, the play is concerned with the abuse of power when it comes to collecting that data. It questions whether mass surveillance is necessary to keep us safe, or whether it can be harmful to global progression.

If you could spy on someone in real life, who would it be and why?

After working on this play I don't think I want to spy on anyone.

Photo credit: Ellie Kurttz

Originally published on

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