"Last week, Andrew was that guy with his girl lunching in KFC, discussing apartments and making plans for the future. Today he's in Moscow, in an undisclosed hotel room, on the run and at risk of assassination. Last week, a nobody. This week, America's Most Wanted: a man who humiliated his country with one touch of a button."
Sound familiar? Yes, it's no secret that Edward Snowden's leaking of classified information from the National Security Agency in 2013 about global internet and phone surveillance has inspired Mike Bartlett's new play Wild, opening at Hampstead Theatre this week. Snowden fled first to Hong Kong and then to Moscow (where he was stranded at the airport unable to travel on to asylum in Cuba or Latin America), before being given temporary asylum in Russia, where he still lives in an unknown location. Meanwhile, the US government has charged him with espionage offences, but it's disputed whether Snowden would get a fair trial if he was to return to his home country.
The sort of opinion-dividing issues that Snowden's actions have raised make perfect material for a playwright like Bartlett, expert in dramatising conflict. Whistleblowing is pitted against confidentiality, and information privacy versus national security. Covert monitoring may be a vital tool against terrorism but if its indiscriminate use means turning into a 'Big Brother' state aren't we compromising the very values of freedom and democracy that we are fighting for? Whether you regard Snowden as a hero or a traitor, he well and truly opened up the debate, to which he actively contributes on Twitter.
Snowden has also revealed details of the British GCHQ spying programme. And the controversial Investigatory Powers Bill (which gives our intelligence and security agencies the right to access personal communications data) is currently going through the legislative process in Parliament. So Bartlett's play could not be more topical.
It's not surprising that the prolific and varied Bartlett is tackling such a hot potato as a writer who has consistently caught the mood of the times. As well as creating the hit TV thriller series Doctor Foster and The Town, the 35-year-old has arguably become the leading British playwright of his generation. He has ranged from intimate psycho-dramas like Cock (on sexual identity) and Bull (on office bullying), to more ambitious, large-scale works such as Earthquakes in London and 13 (dealing with apocalyptic climate change and Occupy-style anti-capitalist protests, respectively).
His wickedly funny Love, Love, Love looked at the legacy of the baby-boomer generation, the 'Shakespearean' blank-verse King Charles III imagined our future monarch as an unlikely champion of press freedom, while last year's audacious Game set the housing crisis in the framework of reality TV as a couple desperate for their own home agree to let paying punters shoot them with tranquiliser darts. And Bartlett's previous play for Hampstead Theatre, an adaptation of the Oscar-winning film Chariots of Fire, transferred to the West End during the London 2012 Olympics.
Wild is directed and designed by a top pairing of James Macdonald and Miriam Buether, with Poldark actor Jack Farthing playing the lead. A work of imagination it may be, but it is based on what is happening in our technology-led 21st century where what once may have been considered as a wild conspiracy theory has become disturbingly real.
Wild is on at Hampstead Theatre, Eton Avenue, Swiss Cottage, NW3 3EU, from 11 June-16 July. Tickets are £10—£35.