REVIEW: Whistleblower, Waterloo East Theatre ✭✭✭

Whistleblower Waterloo East Theatre
The cast of Whistleblower. Photo: Miles Elliot

Waterloo East Theatre
10th February
3 Stars
Book Now

Few public figures are as polarising as former NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. To some, he’s an ethically minded hero who gave up his comfortable life to stand up for what’s right. To others, he is a traitor who gave out state secrets that jeopardised national security.

As one of the handful of people who was still on the fence, I jumped at the opportunity to go and see Whistleblower, a play detailing the life and career of the man who caused such a global stir in 2013.

The play covers his spell in the army as he enlisted to join the Iraq War, as well as his various worldwide roles at the CIA and NSA. It covers the days before the revelations in depth, showing the role of journalists, politicians, technology companies and security officials as they scrambled to uncover or hide the truth.

Whistleblower Waterloo East Theatre
Christopher Wharton, Ruari Cannon and Matthew McFetridge in Whistleblower. Photo: Miles Elliot

The true story is so captivating that it is no surprise that the script is thrilling and viciously fast-paced. It quickly moves between locations and introduces new characters, whilst still managing to explain some tricky concepts in a natural way.

However, there are times when the production dives into surrealism so strong that it feels like a totally different play. Whether it’s an unnecessary song (Somewhere Over the Rainbow was sung twice), breaking the fourth wall or a thoroughly confusing scene on an airplane, it all detracted from the natural intensity of the story and made the production feel disjointed.

The play was effective in showing Snowden’s internal conflict and the terrifying mission creep that was present in so many NSA programmes. However, there are a few themes that were left frustratingly unexplored. How did Snowden feel arguing against government tyranny whilst being trapped in illiberal Russia? And what were the maneuverings behind the various asylum applications that were eventually rejected?

Whistleblower Waterloo East Theatre
The cast of Whistleblower. Photo: Miles Elliot

Whistleblower generally does well in giving a balanced view of Snowden, showing his awkward tendencies and strained relationship with his relatives. That is until ten minutes before the end when the tone shifted and it became hugely preachy. I had already decided by this point that I wasn’t in the Snowden bashing camp, but it was a bit of a shame to end on such a prescriptive note in a play about personal freedoms.

Ruari Cannon, playing the lead character, looked unbelievably similar to Snowden; it was almost if he’d walked into the room. It was a solid and complex performance of an equally complex character; he was awkward and nervous yet showed the steel and bravery that Snowden possessed when it mattered.

Whistleblower Waterloo East Theatre
Alessandro Babalola, Delianne Forget, Cordelia O’Neill, Philip Scott-Wallace in Whistleblower. Photo: Miles Elliot

The ensemble cast was rotated so frequently and covered so many characters that it is difficult to highlight individuals. However, Matthew McFetridge as Snowden’s NSA boss and Ella Road as his long suffering girlfriend both impressed. Equally impressive was Cory Peterson as Snowden’s father (despite a toecurling Scottish accent in his final role as journalist Evan MacAskill).

The staging, from director Eloise Lally, was clever and frenetic, with cast members sat at desks when they were not on stage, shouting instructions into their phones. The resulting buzz kept the energy levels up and added to the sense of paranoia that permeated the production. The cast would also come and sit in the audience for the NSA ‘training sessions’, a shrewd device that gave a Secret Cinema style immersion to some of the more powerful scenes.

Whistleblower is often a flawed production, but gives an educational and exciting look at the life of one of the 21st century’s most controversial figures. The biggest compliment I can give it is that it had me thinking, debating and researching for hours afterwards; and isn’t that what theatre is all about?

Whistleblower runs at the Waterloo East Theatre until 6th March 2016. Book Now!

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