Tuesday, 6 August 2013

I'm With The Band and The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning - Tim Price Goes Independent

It's Tuesday night in an uncharacteristically muggy Edinburgh, and in a 
city centre basement bar sweat-box, a band is about to play their first 
– and possibly final – gig. The musical set-up is tried and tested; an 
all-male indie-schmindie four piece consisting of vocals, guitar, bass 
and drums. There's a chemistry between the quartet as they go through
the paces of their brief, four-song set, even as they sound rough round 
the edges and at times appear to be tugging in different directions.

That's nothing new in a pub venue of this size, and in the end it 
doesn't matter, as the two refreshed east European traveller girls who 
get their picture taken on the lip of the tiny stage the band are 
playing on testify to. Despite the fact that they've never played 
together before outside of a rehearsal room, the band can bluff it 
enough to make the audience believe everything they're hearing. This is 
the case even if they're not in on the joke that this band are called
The Union, and are made up of an Englishman, an Irishman, a Scotsman 
and a Welshman. Nor are they aware that at some point in the very near 
future, the Scotsman will try to go solo.

Or at least he will in I'm With The Band, Welsh writer Tim Price's new 
play, which will shortly be premiered as part of the Traverse Theatre's 
Edinburgh Festival Fringe season. As one might surmise from the above 
description of the play's cast plying their wares in a real life 
gigging environment, Price's play is a timely look at the ongoing 
independence debate in Scotland, which uses the obvious but accessible 
metaphor of a band made up of members from all four UK nations to make 
its point.

“It's always quite difficult to put big ideas on the stage,” says 
Price, who unfortunately couldn't be in attendance for The Union's live 
debut. “If you're not careful, you can sometimes end up being swamped 
by those ideas and can forget to entertain. Once I found this way of 
representing all the four home countries as a band, I felt liberated,
and it became easy to work out what the responses of each member of the 
band might be.”

This approach nevertheless somewhat belies what Price sees as a 
situation in Scotland which is far more complex than advertised.

“To try and condense 300 years of history into a simple yes or no vote, 
it's more difficult than that,” he says. “Part of my frustration comes 
out of this idea that the debate is just about Scotland and England, 
but if Scotland does go independent, it will have a huge impact on 
Wales and Northern Ireland as well, yet there's barely been a mention
of that, which I think is really naïve. The play's quite satirical, but 
I think there's a serious message about how the debate's being 
conducted, and the most important point I'm trying to make in the play 
is that there are four voices, not two.

With new songs provided by Gordon McIntyre of Edinburgh indie band 
Ballboy, who also scored hit lo-fi musical, Midsummer, one might wonder 
why such an issue isn’t being tackled by a writer based in Scotland.

“Orla (O'Loughlin, the Traverse's artistic director) would've loved a 
Scottish writer to do something on the independence debate,” Price 
points out, “but no-one pitched anything.”

Despite his disclaimers, Price isn't shy of dealing with some pretty 
meaty stuff. His first appearance at the traverse was with For Once, 
which looked at teenage deaths in sleepy English towns. This was 
followed shortly afterwards by Demos, a verbatim show which compared 
the transcripts of the daily meetings held by the Occupy movement with 
Prime Minister's Question Time at Westminster. More than a year on from 
both plays, and, as well as I'm With The Band, Price's work can be seen 
in Edinburgh in The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning, which yesterday 
scooped the inaugural James Tait Black Prize for Drama, which was set 
up last year by the University of Edinburgh in partnership with the 
National Theatre of Scotland and in association with the Traverse 

Price's site-specific piece looks at the background of the American 
soldier who was last week found guilty of passing on classified 
material to the website, Wikileaks. It was the contemporary nature of 
the play which in part persuaded the judges to give Price the £10,000 

Presented by National Theatre Wales, Price's play was originally seen 
in Manning's old school in Wales where he spent some time as a child. 
In Edinburgh, The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning will also be 
produced in a school. One crucial element of John E McGrath's 
production is that, ass happened in Wales, it will be streamed 
simultaneously online, thus enabling a global audience to witness the 
play in a spirit of open-ness in keeping with Wikileaks.

“It got over 9000 views in seventy-six different countries,” says 
Price, “so our play connects up with what Bradley did, and even people 
in somewhere like Chile can watch it.”

We're talking the day that, after a thousand days in prison, Manning's 
lawyers finally get to pick apart the charges Manning is facing, even 
as he's already “had his human rights ridden over roughshod,” according
to Price.

The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning  also arrives as former CIA 
employee Edward Snowden has come under similar scrutiny by the American 
authorities after leaking details of mass surveillance programmes to
the press.

“He's not been charged with anything yet,” says Price, “but he's 
already the most wanted man on the planet.”

Despite how Price's sentiments may appear on the page, he comes across 
as anything but an unreconstructed firebrand, retaining an inquiring 
intelligence in both works.

“I think art is the best way to look at these ideas,” he says. 
“Political theatre as such doesn't really seem to fit with the sorts of 
plays I write, and which I think a lot of my generation of writers 
write. What writers are interested in now, I think, isn't politics, but 
power. Once you look at that, you discover that people who have the 
power aren't necessarily the politicians, and that its corporations who 
write policy. Once you realise that, it's about finding out how the 
world works.”

I'm With The Band, Traverse Theatre until 25th, various times; the 
Radicalisation of Bradley Manning, St Thomas Aquin's High School, 
Chalmers Street until August 20th, 7.30pm, and will be streamed 
simultaneously at nationaltheatrewales.org/bradleymanning

The Herald, August 6th 2013


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