The Haystack at Hampstead Theatre
What are the implications of state surveillance? What happens to those who ask too many questions? Written by Al Blyth and directed by Roxana Silbert, The Haystack is a tense, modern thriller that raises important ethical questions regarding the thin line between safety and oppression.
Neil (Oliver Johnstone) and Zeff (Enyi Okoronkwo) are two young, self-proclaimed computer geeks working for GCHQ. The play follows Neil retelling his story to journalist Denise (Lucy Black), who is tasked with finding the person leaking state sensitive information to Guardian reporter Cora (Rona Morison). However, things become complicated as Neil’s work leads to suspicious suicide and his interest in Cora becomes more active and intrusive.
Blyth obviously has a talent for crafting gripping relationships. The dynamic between Neil and Cora is full of suspense and it creates an odd sensation: feeling uncomfortable whilst simultaneously rooting for him. The unique technological angle presents a gripping power dynamic that is creepy yet fascinating to watch. Furthermore, the wit and comedy throughout the production highlight Blyth’s talent in crafting not only a full-fledged story but also engaging dialogue. All in all, this makes The Haystack a chilling but enjoyable and immersive watch.
In addition to the writing, The Haystack’s acting must be applauded – particularly the chemistry between Johnstone and Okoronkwo. The journey of their friendship, whilst not being the main focus of the play, stands out remarkably. Despite The Haystack’s strengths, its use of technology and stage design are somewhat lacking. The videos and theatrical effects used throughout the play feel outdated at points or (especially in the second half) missing altogether. For a production concerned with surveillance and our modern use of technology, the video compositions and set design felt disappointingly like they belonged to an earlier decade.
However, The Haystack’s story, cast and message don’t disappoint. Its comments made on voyeurism, the consequences of disrupting the status quo and questioning where safety truly lies makes it an important and poignant watch. It is a production that presents thrills, chills and a fabulous start of the year for the Hampstead Theatre.
Photo: Ellie Kurttz
The Haystack is at Hampstead Theatre from 31st January until 7th March 2020. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.