The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning opened last night in Tasker Millwood School, Haverford West, Wales. This is the school that Bradley Manning (BM) attended during his teenage years. I have been in West Wales this week along with other activists to organise around the play in an effort to raise the issue of BM. There is a general awareness in the area that BM went to school here and that he is facing serious charges in the US but this is yet to form into a wider campaign of solidarity. It is my hope that this play will help to humanize BM and spur people into action.
The play has been written by Tim Price. I met Tim last year at Occupy London during a talk given by Michael Ratner on the plight of BM. He was obviously passionate about the case and we met up again outside the Supreme Court during a vigil for Julian Assange and again outside the US Embassy at a vigil for BM.
The performance begins as soon as the audience enters the school with sounds of the playground mixed in with the sounds of army training. On entering the school hall actors in combat dress with helmets and weapons distribute polyprop seats and commands to sit in designated positions. The stage is in the centre of the hall with a tall CCTV pillar in each corner. At the base of each pillar monitors are piled up which are used to convey messages and footage throughout the play. The seating is arranged into four banks around the stage and the whole scene reminded me of a boxing arena.
The play is not chronological with the action moving at a fast pace between BM’s school years to Army training, Iraq, Incarceration and back again.The cast is constantly in view with costume changes worked into the action. The actors are completely immersed into the story.
The school scenes build an argument that BM could have been influenced by radical Welsh movements like the Rebecca Riots and Chartists. The pressures applied to the young BM are the hypocritical authority of the teacher and the bullying peer pressure of his classmates. These two pressures from authority and peers are constant throughout the play and build into an almost unbearable intensity.
There are scenes depicting BM working in mundane jobs in the US and wishing that he could afford to go to college. This leads him to turn to his father with a request for help with college fees. The father convinces Bradley to join the Army by telling him that they will pay his college fees. The scenes with his father bring out the wider issue of how young people from economically depressed areas are recruited into the military. West Wales is a prime recruiting ground for the British Army.
The scenes depicting Army training and service in Iraq are authentic. The chaotic nature of the war in Iraq ring true, I served in Iraq in 2005 with US forces in Baghdad. I particularly like a scene in which BM works out that some detainees labeled as insurgents are in fact political protesters, his superior tells him that his job is to find more insurgents not reduce their numbers.
The pressure on BM builds and builds as he goes round after round with authority and peers with their lust for perpetuating all that is wrong in the world fueling his sense of duty to do the right thing. The play climaxes with a wonderfully uplifting scene. BM is on the computer downloading what will become the Collateral Murder Video, Afghan War Diaries, Iraq War Logs and Cablegate. The rest of the cast launches into a Lady Gaga number which culminates in hundreds of pieces paper with classified information printed on it being hurled into the air. I was genuinely moved by this scene.
Scenes portraying BM’s incarceration are disturbing and highlight the inhumane treatment amounting to torture that this young man has been subjected to.
The play is in essence a celebration of a small (BM is 5’2″ and 105 lbs) young (22 when fist incarcerated) homosexual man who won’t accept the world as it is and does something truly incredible about it.
The play is running in Haverford West, Cardiff and Conors Quay. It will also be live streamed from saturday. More details can be found on the NTW Website
Veterans for Peace UK is campaigning for the charges against Bradley Manning to be dropped and for his immediate release.