Wild

Mike Bartlett
Hampstead Theatre
Hampstead Theatre

Caoilfhionn Dunne, Jack Farthing
Jack Farthing

If you were to take a snapshot of this play, throughout, say, 90% of it, you would never in a million years guess what it was about. The scene with a topless hunk in a red cowboy hat standing sombrely over a drunk woman trying to shove a giant safety pin through her hand in a hotel room would be a particularly intriguing red herring.

Directed by James Macdonald, Wild begins a week after Andrew (Jack Farthing) decided, in a moment of seeming clarity and bravery, to leak government documents to the media with hopes of making the world a better place. People would see the US government for what it was, and only then would they be able to build a better system, one which people could really trust.

The trouble, of course, is that Andrew is now the most wanted man in America. Having been smuggled out to Russia by a WikiLeaks-type organisation, he must decide where his loyalties lie; whether he wants to accept help and become a poster-boy for antiauthoritarianism, or whether he wants to battle it out on his own, knowing little to nothing of this new reality, and trusting no-one.

Caoilfhionn Dunne, playing Andrew’s ‘organisation’ contact, is such a treat. A wildly eccentric Brit, incapable of answering anything directly or having what might be considered a remotely normal conversation, but as she herself admits, “I prefer to work in the shadows and distract you with whimsy.” Dunne is a master at presenting as both ridiculous and respectable; a serious figure cloaked in silliness.

Farthing is understated and controlled, making for wonderful contrast to Dunne’s very physical, almost childish energy. He reads as normal in every way, excepting this major decision that has changed his life forever.

The setting (designed by Miriam Buether), a stylish but sterile hotel room, adds to the unreality of the situation. This is not where you would imagine such an intense and life-altering decision to be thrust upon you. The design also becomes wildly impressive (no pun intended) much later in the plot, but to describe that would involve spoilers so you’ll just have to trust me on that one.

In a way, it’s quite amazing how much meat there is on this concept. After all, we’re invited in after the big exciting thing has already happened, and all that’s left is a decision that really appears to be a Hobson’s choice. But writer Mike Bartlett gives us sharp, witty dialogue in a continuously surprising dynamic impossible to fully unravel. Excruciatingly relevant, but most importantly, Wild is compelling enough to keep you engrossed even watching on your laptop in your jammies, a crucial attribute in the current climate.

Reviewer: Miriam Sallon