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Whistleblower; the story of Edward Snowden

Richard Roque
A & R Theatre Company
Waterloo East Theatre

Alessandra Babaloa and Ruari Cannon Credit: Miles Elliot
A & R Theatre Company Credit: Miles Elliot
A & R Theatre Company Credit: Miles Elliot

Edward Snowden is one of a long line of whistleblowers, who at great personal risk revealed things their employers would prefer remained secret.

Documents he released showed the National Security Agency (NSA) of the US was secretly bulk collecting information on people’s e-mails and 'phone records. He also exposed the extent to which Britain’s GCHQ was busy bugging the network of cables carrying the world’s phone calls and then sharing this with the US.

Richard Roques play Whistleblower the story of Edward Snowden is about a lot more than the particular story of one person though it is sensitive to the details of that story.

In a succession of brief, often funny scenes on a minimal set, we see something of his background along with the changing activities of the intelligence agencies.

The fine cast of nine play multiple parts switching accents and behaviour quickly in a very busy performance. Cory Peterson for instance no sooner delivers a scene in which he is a believable US intelligence chief than he is in the role of a Guardian reporter.

The show begins with eight of the actors dressed in bland looking shirts working at the computers which line the sides of the stage. It looks and feels like a noisy call centre. It could be any modern office.

As the babble of communication subsides, Snowden (Ruari Cannon) enters and curls into a sleeping position on a raised block. Around him stand other whistleblowers such as Chelsea Manning who in a short ominous scene speak of their own experience to the sleeping figure.

In the early parts of the show, Snowden doesn’t seem like any sort of rebel. Indeed in 2004, despite a huge anti-war movement, he voluntarily enlists into the army in order to fight America’s war in Iraq.

Later, his computer skills gain him a highly paid job with the CIA in Switzerland. We see how this posting sours when the intelligence agency tries to set up a banker so as to blackmail him into becoming an informant.

This is the old slow way of gaining information. The growth in communication technology opens up massive opportunities for the intelligence services to spy on an easier grander scale. Not that the old ways are entirely forgotten.

When the Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald begins to publish Snowden’s material, an NSA official is shown commenting on Greenwald’s homosexuality that, "there was a time when we could use that against them. Now they are likely to take their mother on a parade."

Many scenes suggest the agency does not really know what it is doing and is very lucky its activities are not constantly rumbled.

Its briefings seem slightly shambolic with even those presenting developments being less than clear about what they are doing. They are shown to be lying to the Senate about the data they collect on Americans.

There are hilarious scenes in which the Guardian gets the Verizon Telecommunications Company to confirm that they are secretly providing the NSA with daily records of the 'phone calls made by Americans.

Ruari Cannon plays Snowden as a reserved gentle figure, almost nerd-like in his social skills. For much of the performance, he seems naïvely surprised at what he is discovering about the activities of US agencies. It is only at the end when the lights go on that he steps forward to make anything of a speech. What he then says is dignified, thoughtful and engaging.

The security services seem to want to know everything about us. It is only fair that we should know a lot more about them and that shouldn’t have to depend on the bravery of people like Edward Snowden.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna