DESERT A Play About Chelsea Manning by the Molino Group. Updated Again for Spring 2014 Tour.


The Molino Group are on tour in England with their ‘on-going’ play about Chelsea Manning this Spring.

Chelsea desert publicity

Starting next Wednesday with a preliminary performance in Basingstoke, they will then visit Poole, Leicester, Leeds, Liverpool and Bristol, with possible dates in Brighton and Exeter.


Wed 5th March 2014: Proteus Creation Space, Basingstoke

Thu 6th March 2014: The Lighthouse, Poole

Mon 24th March 2014: Upstairs at the Western, Leicester

Sun 6th April 2014: Slung Low’s HUB, Leeds

Tue 8th – Thu 10th April 2014: Unity Theatre, Liverpool

Mon 21st – Wed 23rd April 2014: Wardrobe Theatre, Bristol

DESERT IN 2012, 2013 AND NOW 2014

Desert is more of a project than a play. The Molino Group describe themselves as a

theatre and performance collective established in 2011 by Bethany Pitts (Director) and Edward Fortes (Dramaturg).

and explain that

working with an acting ensemble in a collaborative way, the company develops new writing from a different angle, developing text through workshops alongside a more physical approach and with a writer in the room.

In doing so, they aim to bridge the gap between new writing and devising practices.

Since 2012 the group have continually reworked and updated Desert as events on the ground have unfolded, which has meant that they have followed Chelsea’s ‘story’ closely and are immersed in the significance of it – something that has been very obvious so far. Their research has been thorough and they have brought to the subject sensitivity and intuition, as well as an understanding of context.

Since the beginning, people from the Wise Up network have been present at performances, beforehand with displays and literature, and afterwards for discussion and planned QA sessions as well as informal conversation about Chelsea, her motivations, and other aspects of the case.


Chelsea DESERT 2012 4

In 2012, they started rehearsing a play about (then) Bradley Manning, who, at the time, was waiting for trial in prison in the US. And the method above applied to the production they worked on, with the actors contributing to the development of the piece, which was then performed in June 2012 at the Bike Shed theatre in Exeter.

It was excellent. With just two actors, two main parts and a few subsidiary characters which the actors ‘became’, transforming themselves remarkably on the spot in front of us, the play was moving, effective and completely absorbing, and, as a piece of art, it was beautiful and memorable.

The blurb said this:

Blurring between real and imagined events, ‘Desert’ takes us on a journey from a cell at Quantico Brig, Virginia, through Northern Iraq, to the not-so-distant future.

Through the eyes of Morgan, an aspiring Welsh hacktivist, we move backwards and forwards in a constantly evolving contemporary narrative as she tries to make sense of Bradley’s story.

Chelsea Desert 2012 6

Blending text, movement and media, desert probes how far the campaign phrase ‘We are all Bradley Manning’ really goes in a world where the individual and global powers are continuously in conflict.”


It was reviewed here on this blog, and also by Exeunt, who gave it 4 out 5 stars and praised it, saying

every aspect of this production is a model of elegant concision – an impressive feat in tackling a subject so large.


By 2013, with a great deal more information available (and more emerging all the time as we were going through the pretrial hearings), ‘concision’ was a lot harder.

The Molino Group were again booked in to the Bike Shed for a run of Desert in May/June 2013, which coincided with the hectic days immediately before the trial proper, set to start on 3rd June.

We had an important demo at the US Embassy to mark the start of the trial, and so couldn’t be around for the final performances.

This time the play opened to (the then still) Pfc Bradley E. Manning with his back to us and the no of days he had been in prison without trial projected onto it – the no. thus changing each day – which brought us straight into the immediacy of the narrative.

Rebecca Tanwen, who had played the female character in 2012, was replaced by Lucy Farrett, and, though the play still contained a lot of the original script, it was reworked to introduce her character, albeit still someone on a journey of discovery about Bradley, differently.

Chelsea DESERT 2013 sand

Certain aspects of the production were altered, and other, newer (or more recently revealed) facts were incorporated.

They had, perhaps, felt that some incidents in the play in the 2012 version were obscure and that the audience were confused, not understanding what was going on. So, for 2013 (and with more material as well) they (in my opinion) sacrificed a little bit of what had, in the original, fed the imagination and emotions, in order to achieve a greater degree of intellectual  clarity.

And the Molino Group have always said that, whilst they’re wanting supporters to appreciate the show, their intention is to introduce Chelsea and the whole historic, groundbreaking, highly significant event to people who know little about it.


Desert Chelsea side on in Brad days (glasses) download

For this year’s production, we are again brought up to date. And there’s yet more information. So where they’ll have taken it this time, and how they’ll have selected their material from the much greater body of info now available, is very intriguing ….

They have said that the trial comes into it (though not how much), and that, of course, Chelsea’s change of name and desire to be known as the woman she has from childhood always felt herself to be, is obviously involved this time around.


There will, again, be supporters available to answer questions, and there will also be planned after show discussions. We will be there with literature, stickers, badges etc for people who want to know more.

Any play about Chelsea is a great opportunity to get the discussion moving, to get the issues out there, and wasn’t it Chelsea who expressed her desire that the result of her whistleblowing would be

“..worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms” ?

(from Chat Logs: see here)
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