The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning set for 2013 Edinburgh Festival Fringe
National Theatre of Wales' award-winning production on US soldier accused of spying
This article is from 2013.
National Theatre of Wales is winning awards for a piece of political theatre that could not be more timely. Gareth K Vile catches up with playwright Tim Price to find out about the Radicalisation of Bradley Manning
Having won the James Tait Award from Edinburgh University - the first winner in the new drama category of Britain’s oldest literary awards, The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning is riding a wave of success and topicality. Manning, formerly a US soldier currently on trial for leaking large quantities of classified information to Wikileaks - has been heralded as both a traitor to his country and a hero of free speech, becoming in the process an iconic symbol of the struggle between state secrecy and acts of conscience.
Tim Price’s script, however, focuses on the man at the heart of the storm. Describing the play as a tragedy, he homes in on aspects of Manning’s life that are not necessarily part of the trial, but place the story in a specific context. Price had already been following Wikileaks, watching how the organisation was forcing transparency on the world’s governments, when the Bradley Manning story broke. ‘At that time I had a commission from the National Theatre of Wales to write another play,’ Price remembers. ‘When Bradley got arrested... it was revealed that Manning was Welsh. He grew up in Wales. I already kind of felt that I shared Bradley's politics, his world view and with his Welsh roots, I felt we shared more than that - we had a shared history, an education system. He would have learnt Welsh, he would have played rugby: all the things that I went through, Bradley went through.’
This perspective gave Price a unique angle – and he used the immediacy of theatre to respond. ‘Not to say that every piece of theatre needs to be political, he notes, ‘but unlike any other form of drama theatre can respond really rapidly. You can get from an idea to stage in a matter of months - that is what happened in this case. In a rapidly changing world, theatre has a privileged position.’
Yet Price avoids a predictable approach to political theatre, recognising instead that the decision to leak large numbers of US military cables did not happen on a whim, but in the context of Manning’s own life experience. Pointing out that he is far from a typical soldier – small in height, and apparently regarded as a ‘risk to himself and others’ by his superiors – Price considers the man beneath the media myth.
‘The tragedy of this young man is that all Bradley ever wanted to do is go to University but he couldn't afford it.’ Price, having grown up in what he describes as a similar working class community to Manning, is aware of the pressure to find an escape from poverty and exclusion. ‘He joined the army as a last resort to get an education.’
It’s this combination of the personal and political that sets The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning above the predictable run of agit-prop theatre and its success reflects the potential of theatre to be part of a public dialogue about political transparency and state security.
Pleasance @ St Thomas Aquin's High School, 226 0000, until 25 Aug 7.30pm (not 11, 14, 21), £12–£14 (£10–£12).