It is not often that I read a script and am gripped and surprised by the unfolding narrative but Al Blyth’s play at Hampstead Theatre is a real page turner. The main challenge for the design was how to allow the story of GCHQ surveillance and the complex moral consequences of the state’s desire to keep us all safe and what that means for our freedoms to flow at the pace of a filmed thriller. The play has about 80 scenes which flow through flash back and the director Roxanna Silbert made the bold choice to work with movement director Wayne Parsons to make sure that a story about two nerdy guys sitting behind computes didn’t become trapped in a dull naturalism, the scenes flow into each other through stylised actions from the cast. The set went through many iterations , but retaining throughout the desire to create a layered space that could take projections (Duncan Maclean) and both reveal and conceal what the spies sat in GCHQ are seeing. As the story gets darker and more personal the technology deliberately fades away to leave just the actors isolated on islands of space within a bleakly purgatorial world.

Haystack by Al Blyth, Hampstead Theatre 2020, directed by Roxanna Silbert, Designed by Tom Piper , Lighting by Rick Fisher, Video by Duncan Maclean.

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