Hampstead Theatre’s proscenium is so neat that its stage looks like a television screen: stark, claustrophobic and coaxing. Even more so when that stage is transformed into a hotel room. The insipidly familiar, clinical, bold patterns; muted, scratchy, man-made fabrics; and a bed that’s too made. There’s no atmosphere, no identity, no nationality: it might as well be a prison.
Just as well for Mike Bartlett’s Wild, a play that has taken its starting point from the Edward Snowden affair. A fairly ordinary bloke, hyper-intelligent and nerdy (but who still indulges in the odd KFC) has the opportunity to leak some governmental information in a bid for national transparency, and does it. So what next? What do you do when you’ve made yourself a target? Order in a bargain bucket? No. At this point you have displaced yourself and everything you have known is no longer tangible, no longer reachable. You’re in a constant state of transience and you have to depend on people you don’t know – people on a quest for their own power – just to stay alive. Bartlett’s Andrew (played by Jack Farthing) is in exactly this situation. From within it, Andrew projects the insular onto the world, the imbalance of trust and power, the never knowing what is truth and what is a spinning yarn.
A tense and claustrophobic situation that is taking place in a tense and claustrophobic hotel room – perfect. Except there is not nearly enough control in the production to maintain any of it. It should be balanced, it should be so tight. It isn’t. The set is visibly cracking at the seams from the off. Ruining the main event, there is a huge overturn of the set that proves that nothing is ever what it seems. More than that, the holes and cracks are just shoddy. More still, why are we sitting through an hour and a half of nothingness in waiting for the set to do something? There’s a jumble there that needs addressing.
The individual performances are just as incoherent. Farthing (who I’ve been fan girl-ing since his phenomenal performance in Carmen Disruption) is understated, exhausted and confused, lost and alone somewhere out of his control in Moscow. He is necessarily one-dimensional. He is visited, separately, by a woman and a man, both called George, both claiming to work for “him”. There is a necessity for these characters to lift some of the intensity, but Woman (played by Caoilfhionn Dunne) takes it too far. So intent is she on supplying comedy that her performance is one continuous facial montage with a dodgy English accent. It needs control. Her character is grating, and intended to be, but it becomes so grating that you’d just quite like her to leave. Man (John MacKay) is the counterbalance so calm that he’s almost pointless: there’s no danger emoting from his calm, no edge. Yet MacKay later proves he has cracking comic timing and physicality when it comes to the deconstruction of the set.
All in all, the story is made slack and functional only to get to the final set piece, and two out of the three performances are off-key. It feels like it’s underdeveloped, like the set had more rehearsal than the play.
Wild is playing at Hampstead Theatre until 16 July. For more information and tickets, see the Hampstead Theatre website.