Review: Man in the Middle

Revealed - a flawed yet profound Wikileaks drama


By John Nathan, January 20, 2012
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Theatre503, London SW11

Lookalike: Darren Weller as Julian Assange in the uneven Man in the Middle

Lookalike: Darren Weller as Julian Assange in the uneven Man in the Middle

If writer Ron Elisha wanted to clarify the dizzying events surrounding WikiLeaks and explore the case for and against its founder, Julian Assange, well, he hasn't.

Elisha's take on how and why Assange embarrassed governments the world over by publishing diplomatic correspondence is part sober examination of the facts, part satire and a lot of stuff in-between that could be either.

Lucy Skilbeck's slick production is set against high-tech video projections that mix images of the real Assange and a silver-haired Darren Weller who charismatically plays the maverick leaker of classified information. There are times when it is hard to tell which is which.

But the other kind of mix on offer here, serious drama and light satire, rarely makes good bedfellows. This is especially the case when the funny stuff has the tone and humour of A-level agitprop. There is, for instance, a scene in which President Obama is confronted by David Cameron for calling the Prime Minister a "lightweight". Through clenched teeth, the pair trade insults. But if Elisha wrote the piece to rub salt into Cameron's wounded pride, he failed, partly because the scene has no whiff of truth about it, partly because it is not funny, but mainly because Cameron comes across as Obama's equal, and what is the point of satire if it increases the standing of its target?

There is also a scene set in Downing Street during which Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg is told the value of a
Pre-Raphaelite sculpture. Imagine, he says, how much more "Raphaelite" sculptures must be worth. It is a throwaway line, but they only work if they make sense and make you laugh. This one does neither.

This wit-lite humour saps the play of credibility. It is hard to know how much to believe when the going gets serious and the focus shifts to a portrait of Assange as a megalomaniacal genius who "invented a way of keeping governments honest". And yet something interesting emerges. When Obama says "I'm going to have to rip the balls off the first amendment" to apprehend Assange, the line has a ring of truth about it and, with it, a picture begins to build of just how high the stakes are.

Yet more convincing is the argument that WikiLeaks is part of a game -changing internet phenomenon and that, whatever happens to Assange, who may still be extradited to Sweden on sex crime charges, the world will never quite be the same.

Somewhere in this immature, uneven play there lies a profound piece of work.

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    Last updated: 11:31am, January 20 2012