In 2011 Julian Assange rose to formidable ‘fame’ through the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks that he founded. Revealing the truth behind things that governments would rather be kept quiet or covered up, WikiLeaks published some of the most damning and controversial documents ever to enter the public domain, including information on the Iraqi and Afgan wars. Under the editorship of Assange, the notion of transparency and open democracy thrust WikiLeaks and governments across the world into the lime light.
Man In The Middle by Ron Elisha at Theatre503 pieces together the snapshots of information about Assange that have been glimpsed since WikiLeaks rose in media attention. The play is often imagined conversations, moments behind closed doors and encrypted channels of communication, coupled with the continual pressure that international governments have put upon Assange’s head over rape allegations in Sweden and potential espionage in the USA.
With subject matter that is not only current but also questioning the very fabric of the internet and how its usage can be governed, Man in the Middle is a fascinating attempt to anyalise and present Assange and transparency on the theatrical stage. Yet Elisha’s play doesn’t quite go far enough in either political or personal matter to make Man in the Middle live up to expectations. What it presents is somewhat of an overview of Assange as an individual with his beliefs of truth and honesty, a look into the events that unfolded in 2011 with Assange’s arrest, and, of course, the bigger question of government transparency. Whilst each of these is explored in the play, none of them are really given the depth they deserve.
Darren Weller’s Assange is solid throughout, yet it is often those characters who surround him that bring out the joy of Elisha’s script. Amy Marston is a particular example of a mutli-cast actor whose presence and character were excellently conceived. Equally, Jonathan Coote stood out as a grounding force within the production. Lucy Skilbeck’s directing is strong, but it is the other theatrical elements such as Agenes Treplin’s design, Johanna Town’s lighting and Fergus O’Hare’s sound that give life to this production – particularly the sound.
So what does Man in the Middle offer its audience? A caricature of some of the more public figures such as Mark Zuckerberg, Barack Obama and David Cammeron, but also a more realistic presentation of the lesser known figures within Assange’s life. Throughout Elisha’s text there is a slight glossing over of more in-depth work that other writers have achieved with other similar explorations of well-known situations and people.
Perhaps my desire for a more thorough approach to the text comes from the sort of curiosity that would be satiated by the mysterious Assange and his whistleblowing website. After all, when every eye is turned on leaked cables, documents and video footage, the notion of journalism is completely changed. Assange has been, in many ways, a catyalist for change, and Man in the Middle has the potential to be a play that upholds those beliefs and presents them boldy, but sadly misses the chance.
Man in the Middle is playing at Theatre503 until 4 February. For more information and tickets, see Theatre503’s website.