Theatre503 kicks off the new year with a typically punchy and controversial subject. A 'Wikiplay' based on the ever peculiar Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. Co-produced by Theatre503 and Cheepuk, it receives its UK premiere having been seen in Sydney last June.
One can’t help but feel that this production is a little late to the party. Although Assange’s impact on the world stage was a forceful one, his star burnt quickly and his 15 minutes already feel dated. It also doesn’t help that this play is deficient in so many respects. Notably its knack of delivering cheap gags and distracting side stories at the expense of the juicy bits.
Directed by Lucy Skillbeck, Man In The Middle opens with Assange (Darren Weller) and his colleague glued to a Mac, watching yet another American soldier doing something he shouldn’t.
The play then hurtles along until Assange is about to stand trial. Along for the ride are Mark Zuckerberg, Barack Obama and David Cameron. As well as Assange’s mother and teenage son. The most distracting off-shoot (but by no means the only one) is a scene with Cameron and Zuckerberg talking about the UK government using Facebook.
Zuckerberg swears a lot and Cameron is posh and thick, but its place in the narrative is anyone’s guess. Later we are treated to Obama on a massage bed having a nice deep tissue while discussing how to get Assange extradited. Clearly there is an opinion being flaunted about Obama and his administration but it’s all consumed by tackiness.
There are redeeming features to this play, principally the set (designed by Agnes Treplin) which contracts and expands and swivels as we move from Sweden to the UK, America and Australia. The acting too has its moments, Weller’s Assange is weird, vain, deeply self obsessed and quite unlikeable. Jonathan Tafler ably assists in his role as Assange’s QC. When these two raise the stakes there is a palpable energy, which should be given more time to run.
Sadly though, even the more serious and compelling parts of the story are undermined by writer Ron Elisha’s penchant for one liners. When Assange does a magic trick - visual metaphor for his elusiveness - any pretence at drama evaporates.
- Ed Strictland