Big Brother Is Watching In The Haystack

The Haystack, Hampstead Theatre ★★★☆☆

Big Brother Is Watching In The Haystack The Haystack, Hampstead Theatre 3
Photo: Ellie Kurttz

Spotting a terrorist is in many ways like trying to find a needle in a haystack. The response by government intelligence is to examine the entire haystack and scrutinise each and every person within it, in the hope that the 'needle' can be found. However, this method means that those who are here to protect us are also able to access our most personal information.

Neil (Oliver Johnstone) and Zef (Enyi Okoronkwo) are tasked with finding out who is responsible for leaking disclosed information to the media. Aspiring journalist Cora (Rona Morrison) becomes their target. Boyish and brimming with enthusiasm, Neil's close observation soon morphs into somewhat of an obsession.

Told through flashbacks, this thriller — the debut full length play from Al Blyth — examines numerous aspects of modern society. Privacy, professional conduct, crossing boundaries and the pros and cons of modern technology are all explored.

Photo: Ellie Kurttz

Heavy themes and a lot of information to process, yes, and at times certain points are laboured upon, especially during the overlong first act. Although the characters veer towards the stereotypical at times, the impressive acting and witty writing prevents this from becoming too much of a distraction. The tempo increases during the second half, which delivers a suitably rewarding climax.

Hampstead often delivers in terms of set design and Tom Piper's efforts combined with Duncan McLean's use of video reiterate the key themes of the play superbly. New Artistic Director Roxanna Silbert has fulfilled the venue's brief of offering new, challenging and thought provoking writing. It has its flaws and at almost three hours is too long but ultimately this is theatre that makes us think. Casting a spotlight on how far we have both progressed and regressed in 2020, we leave with lingering thoughts and a lot to digest but that is surely the sign of a promising playwright and theatre doing what it does best — starting a conversation.

The Haystack, Hampstead Theatre, Eton Ave, Swiss Cottage, NW3 3EU, tickets £10-£37. Until 7 March

Last Updated 10 February 2020