Privacy at the Donmar
June 2013 saw the beginning of a series of publications about mass surveillance based on documents leaked by NSA-whistleblower Edward Snowden. Privacy at the Donmar is a part-verbatim exploration of these stories, the issues they have raised and debates that have surrounded them for the past eleven months.
James Graham’s “investigation of the digital age” is as poignant as it is topical. Directed by Josie Rourke, the play follows The Writer – superbly acted by Joshua McGuire – as he is bullied by his overbearing Director into making himself the “guinea pig” of an experiment into privacy in the internet age. In the process of researching and writing a play on the subject, The Writer more or less wittingly surrenders his own hitherto carefully guarded privacy to internet, smartphone and social media, as well as the eyes and ears of audiences in the theatre and online.
Privacy’s dialogue includes testimonies from journalists, MPs, technologists and government officials interviewed by author James Graham and the Donmar’s production team, delivered onstage by a versatile cast of six actors who alternate in different roles. For anyone who has been following the Snowden disclosures, the play will not really tell anything new. It does, however, bring home the pervasive intrusion into our private lives not only by the intelligence agencies but also by corporations and every single member of a globally connected online audience.
At its best, the production is powerfully haunting. Its skilful use of multimedia effectively creates a sense of exposure, making it apparent that in the digital age privacy essentially is over. At other times, the production’s funny and light tone makes it an entertaining theatrical experience. While mostly successful at navigating its highly complex subject matter, Privacy does feel a little cluttered at times. Condensing some lengthy scenes may have allowed for a more thorough investigation of the issues that are central to the play and the Snowden stories.
On the whole, Privacy is a must-see: an entertaining, comprehensive and powerful introduction to the Snowden revelations, it highlights the threat of mass surveillance and the need to renegotiate our right to privacy in a digital age.
Photo: Johan Persson
Privacy is at the Donmar Warehouse until 31st May 2014, for further information or to book visit here.