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NWR Issue 99

Bradley Manning, Baader-Meinhof & Legs Akimbo


The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning, National Theatre Wales' acclaimed play, is to be part of the British Council's showcase at Edinburgh Fringe this summer, opening on 6 August, to include live streaming. Bradley Manning spent part of his childhood in Haverfordwest, but recently spent two years in prison without charge. He is the young US soldier facing court martial after being accused of leaking 250,000 secret logs from the Iraq & Afghan wars. NTW asks 'who was responsible for the radicalisation' of this west Wales teenager? NTW's major achievement set me thinking about how political commitment and the arts has been a theme running through recent months of commissioning at NWR.

NTW_The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning

Yesterday afternoon I met up with Honno press personnel Caroline and Helena, who were looking for some coverage of their autumn novel by north-east Wales writer Caroline Ross. Small Scale Tour is inspired by the experiences of the author's husband, Terry Kiendl, directing his Newcastle-based. leftwing smallscale touring company in the Thatcher era. I came to Aberystwyth in the 80s heyday of Welsh-language ensemble-driven theatre-in-education (when the sector was properly funded), so have an affinity with the right-on decade's political theatre (although I know when to steer clear of the Legs Akimbo brand identified by the League of Gentlemen). Although I sometimes make a pose of being apolitical, this is a figment designed mainly to dodge party politics and parochial namedropping in my home town, and to preserve privacy.

Indeed, I've had a pretty radical month, counting finishing off Prof Julian Preece's marvellously detailed and broadranging critical title, Baader-Meinhof and the Novel with a view to drafting interview questions on activism, terrorism and fiction for NWR's Hay session on Sunday 2 June. Plus, brownie-points please, for swotting up on the international political novels he references, specifically the wonderful, Pulitzer-prizewinning Jennifer Egan's debut novel, The Invisible Circus. While Egan's themes here of idolising commitment, youth, and the pathological inability to compromise, chime perfectly with those of Prof Preece, I was sneakily pleased to see Egan's almost gauche overwriting and explication compared to the perfect understatement she achieves in A Visit from the Goon Squad. But why are the products of such a serious, intellectual artist packaged like ditzy chicklit? Can't publishers' marketing teams learn to accept and promote female satirists in their own right? This is a problem NWR contributor and upcoming satirical novelist Angharad Penrhyn Jones aired in the new year at our Glamorgan University session hosted by Philip Gross, Journey to Outer Magnolia. And to circle back to Honno, Helena reminded me, over our tea, that she and Angharad are currently editing a non-fiction anthology of women's new writing on political commitment, focusing on the catalysts that make ordinary women speak up for something, whether language rights, healthcare or the environment.

I'd last week had a scan of an early proof of Small Scale Tour, and Caroline Ross does look to be a good writer with a strong voice, the latter being what I look for first in fiction. I could immediately promise a review for our winter edition, even while reserving judgement as to the publishers' comparisons of Ross with Joe Dunthorne and Ali Smith! I had Penny Simpson in mind as reviewer, since she always writes so skilfully about the arts, and especially theatre (witness The Banquet of Esther Rosenbaum). Sure enough, in this morning's emails, Penny agreed to look at the novel this summer when her first year of a part-time MA in Human Rights at Essex breaks up. I love it when reviews work out so simply; often they're the trickiest part of the magazine to solve because of shifting publisher dates.

Unlike the publishers, I prefer NWR to notice a book before the publication date, rather than afterwards (their argument is that the latter is when the book is available, mine, that we aim for an exclusive story). So, since Honno were seeking an additional angle for Small Scale Tour, this morning I've been fishing for theatre and political ideas we could hobby-horse in our autumn edition, which will be out six weeks before the novel's publication date of 17 October. I've also been playing with the idea of an exclusive digital feature on such themes within the same edition.

NTW's announcement today that The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning will be part of the British Council's showcase at Edinburgh Fringe seemed the perfect opportunity for Caroline Ross to share her knowledge of political theatre, and perhaps to draw out comparisons of the 80s analogue scene (in terms both of subject and theatre technique) with the digital dimensions of Bradley Manning's story of database hacking and Wikileaks, and its interpretation by NTW with multi-platform delivery including live streaming.

Whether Ms Ross will take a bite at this commission, only time will tell. But either way, I hope for a positive relationship with a writer I hadn't heard of until late last week. All in all, it's been a creative morning, interspersed as it was with shortlisting poetry submissions for NWR 101, published 1 September.


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