Whistleblower the story of Edward Snowden is a very odd play in some respects. The first, and most obvious is that Snowden himself has stated (both in real life and in the play) that he doesn’t want to be the story. That he now is, should come as no real surprise and his wish to remain outside of things hints at a naivety in his character that could provide the explanation of what he did. This is one thing that, to my mind, the play failed to fully cover. What turned a guy who ‘had it all’ as he himself admits into the man that exposed the inner working of the clandestine agents of government to the world? We get hints in the play but no real definitive answer. Maybe there isn’t one, maybe it was a combination of factors but as you leave the theatre, that question remains un-answered.
To say that this play is thought-provoking is to really underestimate its power. My friends and I were last back from the interval as we were stood outside the Waterloo East Theatre debating the events that had occurred in the first act, and that debate continued after the play was over and on the journey home. This is the author, Richard Roques, greatest achievement. To sit you down for a couple of hours and then spark intense discussion not about the actors, the set, the lighting etc, but about the characters, the agencies, the governments themselves.
Let’s move on to the theatrical side for a second then. A highly talented cast of 9, led by Ben Fisher in the title role, manage, by dint of changing their hairstyle or putting on a hat or jacket – all without ever leaving the stage – to play a large number of characters that constantly interact with Edward and each other. Everyone from President Obama, to a street dancer in a Swiss nightclub. There is a wonderful sequence in Act II where Kenneth Jay goes from being General Alexander, Director of the NSA, complaining loudly about Snowden and the Guardian to Ewan MacAskill, a journalist interviewing Edward, all in about 10 seconds. To me that was both great writing and awesome acting. When not actually speaking, the cast sit at work stations on the side of the stage, eerily performing as agency monitors, listening in on headphones to who knows what?
If I was being picky, and I suppose I ought to be, then I did get irritated with the choice of music used for scenes changes. Maybe I missed something but most of the time the incidental music really just felt like a filler rather than having anything to do with the story unfolding in front of us. On a really personal note, I’m not keen on using projectors to relay information and it wasn’t until Act II that I realised the screen was telling us where each scene was – a totally superfluous piece of information as the writing and acting made it very clear. But if you are going to use a projector, then please remember not everyone has perfect eyesight and from where I was sitting, it was very difficult to read the Google Chat messages that were used to move the story on.
I was highly impressed that the writing had been updated to include mention of the fast tracked Data Retention and Investigatory Powers legislation that has recently gone through parliament (though it should not have been used to score a political point as all party leaders pushed for it).
Finally, coming back to the leading man. Ben Fisher played his part tremendously. Although I’ve never met Edward Snowden I have seen him on the news, and Ben pulled of the part perfectly. The physical look, mannerisms and voice were all just right and to me, he really was Edward.
So, to sum up. A really thought-provoking and enjoyable play in one of my favourite off-west end theatres. Whether you end up defending what is done in our name to protect us or criticising what is being done away from the scrutiny of our elected representatives and without our consent, you will certainly have a lot to talk about. If I was to give a star rating then 4 out of 5.
I will leave you with three questions that came out and should be answered, two from the play and one from me: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? What else are they doing? And finally, why are tennis balls covered in fur?
Review by Terry Eastham
Whistleblower the story of Edward Snowden
By Richard Roques
Edward Snowden is holed up in a hotel in Hong Kong.
He has left his life in Hawaii, abandoned paradise for a life on the run. Tortured by thoughts of his girlfriend, his mother and father and the ghosts of other whistleblowers from Chelsea Manning in solitary confinement to Thomas Drake, charged with 35 years imprisonment, he waits. But will the CIA and the National Security Agency find him first?
Cast: Ben Fisher, Lauren Pisano, Iain Dootson, Walles Hamonde, Kenneth Jay, Solomon Mousley, Victor Power, Amy Reitsma, Miranda Wilson
Waterloo East Theatre
8th July to 3rd August 2014
Tuesday to Saturday at 7.30pm
Matinees Sunday at 4.00pm
Running time approx 120 mins with an interval