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Home arrow Archive: EdFringe 2013 arrow The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning
The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning
Published on Monday, 02 September 2013

5 stars

Pleasance At St Thomas of Aquin’s High School
6, 8-9, 12-13, 15-16, 19-20, 22-23 Aug, 7:30pm-9:00pm; 7 Aug, 2:30pm-4:00pm; 10, 17-18, 24-25 Aug, 2:30pm-4:00pm, 7:30pm-9:00pm
Reviewed by Jane Bristow

 Recommended for age 12+ only.

Bradley Manning has certainly attracted his share of headlines, and you’d have to have been living in a cave not to realise the timeliness of this play; he was finally sentenced to thirty-five years on Wednesday 21st August, after three years of pre-trial detention. This spectacular performance seeks to explore how Manning went from a teenage computer prodigy living in Wales, to a disaffected whistleblower serving as a private in the US army. More than anything, this at-times-shocking play depicts Manning as the ultimate outsider. Staging the performance in a school creates a truly immersive atmosphere to chart the resulting conflict.

Unusually, the experience starts as soon as you enter the school, and builds powerfully until you eventually find the stage. I won’t give away any more, but suffice to say the production takes advantage of the spacious surroundings to build tension before the action begins. The tone’s then set during our first encounter with Manning – he’s alone and naked on stage, receiving humiliating treatment at the hands of the establishment which sees him as a traitor.

The audience is transported back to the two years of schooling he received in Wales, and writer Tim Price plays with the premise that it was the great Welsh radicals who inspired Manning to rebel. It’s arguably a little contrived, but it works well as a metaphor – providing the first examples of the establishment giving him a mixed message, by teaching him about the importance of standing up for what he believes in then punishing the children who act on that belief.

Other scenes flit between his army training (when he meets his first boyfriend), his time serving on the front line in Iraq, and his subsequent detention in America.  It’s deliberately disorientating, assisted by alternating the actors playing Manning, and reflects the difficulty he has with his own identity. This isn’t a naturalistic performance – the program stresses that it’s ‘inspired by a true story’ – and some may find it over the top, but for me it made Manning a more vivid creation. It also allowed for fast-paced action and even a surprisingly appropriate dance routine.

There are undoubtedly a lot of issues raised in this production, but it’s so well put together that the heavy political message isn’t at the expense of the quality of the play. As for Manning, he emerges as a vulnerable and above all complex figure, trapped by the establishment and his own personal demons.  By the end I felt fascinated by his many roles: whistleblower; gay activist; soldier; transgender campaigner. This, combined with the excellent staging and aptly innovative use of technology, makes The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning one of 2013’s standout Fringe shows.

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