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Fringe Online 2020

Low Down

Directed by James Macdonald, designed by Miriam Bleuther and lit by Peter Mumford. Sound’s by Christopher Shutt. Company voice and dialect’s Penny Dyer. Movement Consultant’s Leon Baugh. Design Associate’s Aaron Marsen, Assistant Director Chelsea Walker. Costume Consultant’s chris Cahill and Wardrobe Laura Wilson. Hannah Sharp, Tim Davies Design and John Cadbury at PRG are credited for the broadcast. It was filmed in its 2016 run for streaming over 72 hours, by an unnamed in-house Hampstead team directed by Macdonald. Screened again March 30-April 5th, it may well return.


Often the strength of a play is tested on its revival, or here in Hampstead Theatre’s re-screening of Mike Bartlett’s Wild -premiered at Hampstead Theatre in 2016 – in its virtual one. The second of four Hampstead are presenting, and the first to be co-sponsored by the Guardian, Wild speaks in a way that premiere could not have imagined.

Mike Bartlett’s fortunate in having one real (Albion, at the Almeida) and one virtual (Wild, here) revived in the space of two months. And it’s prescient too, since Bartlett’s the laureate of confinement, of the no-exit play. This though speaks to our current condition more unnervingly than any.

Till now Bartlett’s most successful stage works are those that close in on their main protagonist like Greek Tragedy, boxing them into oblivion: Contractions, Cock, Bull, King Charles III and in part Game – the latter two like Albion premiered at the Almeida. Others like Earthquakes in London try the reverse, people jumping their fates. Results there are baggy, even if Bartlett proved astonishingly prophetic in 2011: a sixteen-year-old girl eco-saving the planet.

Wild is classic Bartlett, though he starts with some boxing-in already and the no-way-outs are achieved with switch-backs and a final theatricality you think you see coming, but won’t.

Jack Farthing’s Andrew, not unlike Edward Snowden clicked a mouse three days ago, the whole world’s turned upside down and he’s toast. In a Moscow hotel hoping for resident status and protection from extradition to the U.S. where he’ll be locked up forever or fried.


Into this dreary anonymous hotel room (it’s Miriam Beuther’s set, remember that) steps a woman calling herself Miss Prism, or after Wilde’s first actor from the 1895 production – a woman who played the part – George. Well that’s comforting.


Caoilfhionn Dunne’s a playful set of headlights dazzling the rabbit-fixated querulous occasionally protesting Farthing, who she proclaims merely average smart not Oxbridge smart like her. He needs what she’s offering: work with the man he clicked for. Whilst stripping down his life and motivations, telling him how bleak things will be from now on, proving she knows everything about him, she offers a lot of playful faux-moves: sex, verification, conscience and saviour moments and then his essential non-being. She needs him he points out. Stalemate.


28 minutes in Dunne’s dazzling switchbacks suggest she might embody some personification of Wikileaks, a stage hallucination. Bartlett’s subtler.


After her exit and noise-up on Russian TV in darkness, it’s more like Murder in the Cathedral with four tempters condensed into two. The second, John Mackay enters and also calling himself George – he looks distinctly like Putin in his prime – denying knowing anything about his predecessor – she’s a spy, obviously – proclaims he’s the one sent. You can see where this is going.


Mackay’s dark bad-cop Scottish minder George 2 plays hard man on Andrew’s not grasping what he’s done. The negatives – danger to the state, even himself with one slip by the journalists he responsibly handed info over to sift, will result in that. He’s not there for long. Even that chocolate Andrew’s just eaten, is it poisoned?


Directed by James Macdonald Beuther’s set proves outstanding, as does Peter Mumford’s lighting and Christopher Shutt’s sound which till near the end is TV Russian.


There’s more switchbacks, expected arrivals and some distinctly not. Is the western world perhaps more complacent than we think with police states, being spied on like everything else for our own good? Bartlett raises more questions about the motive and dynamics of whistleblowing, virtue-signalling valiants-for-truth who extol and use it, who controls information and the military industrial complex than he feels like answering. And whose side everyone’s really on. Or if there us a side. We end up brilliantly in a world redacting itself by the minute.

There are moments where you realize Bartlett, having gifted himself a given – a non-person already confined with nowhere to go – has to somehow up his own game. By erasing moral boundaries and pushing contraction into a black hole he just about springs out of his own trap with panache and not a little suspense of disbelief. But you should find out what happens. It’s theatrically the most thrilling end to any Bartlett play. Which is saying something.