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Wild (Melbourne Theatre Company) ★★1/2

ABR Arts 14 May 2018

Wild (Melbourne Theatre Company) ★★1/2

ABR Arts 14 May 2018

How curious that British playwright Mike Bartlett’s dark comedy inspired by American whistle-blower Edward Snowden’s escape to Russia after leaking thousands of top-secret NSA documents should open with a joke brazenly filched from The Importance of Being Earnest. The larceny, of course, is unconcealed; one assumes that Bartlett is just letting us know the sort of show we’re in for.

Yes, Wild is pitched as a trivial comedy for serious people. But does it achieve even that much? There are thriller elements and a few stuttering attempts to say something meaningful about the issue of mass surveillance and state power, but overall this is a lightweight piece of work with a poorly carpentered plot, wafer-thin characterisation, and great stack of gags, all with a faintly bitter savour.

This is not quite the Edward Snowden story, but it is close enough. We open with a young man (Nicholas Denton) bunkered down in a shoe-box hotel room in Moscow. There’s a woman from Wikileaks (Anna Lise Phillips) who calls herself – tada! – Miss Prism. She is meant to be keeping him safe and helping to plan his next move, but she seems a little drunk or mad or something more sinister.

From the beginning you sense that the young man has fallen in with the wrong crowd. It’s not long before the woman is dropping dark hints about possible accidents and the need to be vigilant. Miss Prism pointedly observes that whistle-blowers often crack under the pressure of intense public scrutiny and kill themselves. Where are the Snowdens of yesteryear? David Kelly is namechecked and it sounds like a threat.

The woman leaves and a man (Toby Schmitz) appears in her place, but the refrain is the same. Both man and woman want the Snowden character to join their organisation. Like Saint Anthony in the desert, the young man resists their increasingly devilish temptations as best he can, clinging to his independence.

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