Being a live medium, theatre is possibly the most ephemeral of the arts. This means than more than any other form, it is free (even impelled) to react to contemporaneity. And what National Theatre Wales have done is distil one of the most important moments in modern history. The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning depicts the process of a young, unassuming computer geek in the US army becoming the world’s most famous whistle-blower, spliced with the lesser-known story of his adolescence in Wales.
From the moment tickets are ripped, the piece is an immersing experience. The five minute walk to the auditorium features fully equipped US soldiers studying, exercising and barking orders. The narrative then properly then begins, exposing the audience alternately to the intensity of ‘no touch’ torture, the prejudice and political confusion plaguing America, and Manning’s history lessons about Merthyr Tydfil and the Chartists whilst at school in Pembrokeshire. The piece melds theatricality and politics perfectly, particularly the moment when Manning downloads the documents, becoming a liberatory moment of carnivalesque. Yet most poignantly, the closing captions announce the news (then a day old) that Manning has been sentenced to 35 years imprisonment, bringing home the reality of history being made.