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The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning review

Pleasance at St Thomas of Aquin’s High Scool

© Richard Campbell
Over at the Traverse, Tim Price’s new comedy ‘I’m with the Band’ is a bit of a chore, but never fear: here’s something he made earlier.

First produced in Welsh schools in 2012, ‘The Radicalisation…’s jumping off point and physical setting is derived from the little reported fact about jailed former US army intelligence analyst Manning: following his parents’ divorce, the Oklahoma-born Manning moved with his Welsh mother to Havorfordwest, where he attended school.

John E McGrath’s dizzying National Theatre of Wales production comes across like ‘Black Watch’ jacked up on acid and technology, a playfully stylised eruption of noise and light in which the six-strong, military uniform-clad cast recount the events that led to Manning illegally releasing huge amounts of classified US Army material to Wikileaks, interspersed with a deliberately fanciful imagination of his radical Welsh schooling.

Price’s smartest move is to distance us from Manning, whose story is told in non-linear order, in oft surreal vignettes, with the cast taking it in turns to play the troubled young man. It never feels preachy, or romanticised, or hagiographic, or even tragic, even if Price’s sympathies clearly lie with the young man.

Sympathy isn’t the same as fondness, however, and in Price’s eye-popping docu-drama the kaleidoscopic multitude of Mannings come across as a whiny and condescending lot. But that makes him oddly more convincing: from school age to adulthood, his life is defined by an irrefutable, almost anal sense of social justice – the impression we’re given is of a deeply troubled young man who did what he thought was right after being appointed to a job he almost certainly shouldn’t have been appointed to.

As Manning awaits sentencing it remains a timely piece of theatre that – behind all the mad affectations – offers a solid summary of the facts about his life and case. But it is, moreover, a slick and inventive piece of entertainment.

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