‘Desert’ at Latitude this weekend. New Dates for Chelsea Manning play.

UPDATE:New dates – London Sun 2nd Nov here; Exeter Weds 5th Nov, Fri 7th Nov here


The Molino Group are at Latitude Festival in Suffolk this weekend with ‘Desert’; their compelling play telling Chelsea Manning’s whistleblowing story from joining the army to her 35 year sentence. We have written previously about the development of the play here, here and here.

Chelsea desert at Latitude Map 2014_Public Map-140714_2000px

Latitude Festival Map (click on image to enlarge)

The introductory blurb now reads:

Chelsea Manning is currently serving 35 years in jail for leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks in 2010. Then known as Pfc Bradley Manning, this 26 year old super-intelligent, socially-awkward soldier’s actions saw her become the centrepiece in a war between whistleblowers and the US Government.

In the era of Wikileaks and Edward Snowden, how will history remember Manning?

Through the eyes of an everyday individual ‘Desert’ explores this hugely significant figure, blending real-life transcripts with imagined events. Responding to an ongoing political story as it unfolds, the Molino Group’s “excellent new play” (Exeunt) captures the force of a compelling, contemporary narrative.

The Molino Group are billed at ‘The Little House’ in the ‘Faraway Forest’ (top NW on the map above) which the Latitude website describes as

a theatrical studio space in the Faraway Forest that offers the chance to see big theatre companies and exciting new talent in an exclusive, intimate setting.


chelsea design desert_sq

The Molino Group have been working with Chelsea’s story since 2011. They work collaboratively to produce what we see on stage, from Ed Fortes’ really remarkable, intuitive and (highly appropriate given the character of the protagonist!) ideas-rich script, through Beth Pitt’s inspired direction, and during rehearsals (in which all the group participates) with the actors’ real life experiences of the unfolding drama creating some of the scenes.


Giles Roberts does an incredible job of becoming Chelsea on stage and, as highlighted in an Exeunt review in 2012 by Belinda Dillon, his ‘astonishingly good acting’ is a key factor in holding the audience, whilst the dialogue with the character played by Lucy Farrett – a member of the public who becomes a sometimes conflicted supporter – provides the perfect foil for the inevitable emotional intensity.

And the crossover into events on the ground brings an apt realism to her performance as her actual experience is incorporated into the development of the story. As events have added to the narrative, the production has developed to reflect them and this year the play has been touring in its third form.



With very few on-stage explorations of Chelsea’s exemplary act so far produced, it is gratifying that the group have been so dedicated in following events as they unfold, as well as so thoroughly researching the context and seeking to understand both Chelsea and the issues involved.

Their commitment is evident in both the production and their determination to get the message of Chelsea’s empathy and act of resistance out there in the public arena. They have sought to be as faithful to the truth as they can in a piece that plays for around an hour, and the play is surprisingly successful in its nuanced approach.

The Molino Group:

Although we are avowed supporters of Chelsea’s cause, we’ve also endeavoured to find as balanced a form for her story as we can, and tried to elucidate both its better- and lesser-known elements, positive and negative, and give a sense of the journey that she has been on since she made the leaks in 2010.


With Chelsea’s desire that what she did would stimulate

worldwide discussions, debates and reforms,

we are delighted that the Molino Group have incorporated talks and discussions into the package at each venue the play is performed. About this they say:

Audiences (or potential audiences) can be excused a certain suspicion when theatres, the media or programmers talk about a play/production causing ‘debate’, or ‘prompting discussion’. Let’s face it, it’s difficult not to see it as simply as another marketing angle. We have to be conscious of this as we say that one of the key facets of the tour is the work around the show; the post-show discussions and debates we organise in every venue we visit.

Why are these important?

Simply because, (like any story perhaps?) for it to be alive, it needs to be discussed. No matter how large or small the scale on which we are talking, the conversation around Chelsea Manning or whistleblowers more generally – their actions and the merits of these, why they might have been compelled to act, etc. – is a (very simple) part of active citizenship.

Desert brad chelsea image

Another spot-on aspect of the play is that it leaves us all with the question (quoting Chelsea herself, of course) – ‘What would you do?’ and is by no means an academic piece, rather seeking to challenge us to face our own part in making the world a better place.


People involved in the WiseUp network have attended performances and given talks, participated in the discussions and distributed literature/set up stalls etc since the play’s first appearance in June 2012 at Exeter’s Bike Shed Theatre. As people who have also followed Chelsea’s story and supported her over these years, those of us who have seen ‘Desert’ in its various manifestations highly recommend it.


Earlier this year, the Molino Group reported the excellent news that ‘Desert’ had been successful in their bid to be included in the Ideas Tap/New Diorama Theatre ‘Two Night Stand’ programme supporting and showcasing work by young talented companies.

From New Diorama Theatre:

To support very young companies and to give them space, support and the small amount of finance that they need to launch themselves, we have started our Two Night Stands scheme.

Finding young companies at student festivals, scratch nights and other breeding grounds for young talent, New Diorama Theatre gifts two day slots across the year to these exceptional young groups free of charge and returns to them 100% of their box office. This investment in time and resource gives these companies a platform and a small amount of money back to re-invest into their work and future plans.

This is New Diorama’s first chance to get to know young companies and the first rung on our ladder of support. Companies who have started with us as a “Two Night Stand” have gone on to be gifted Time and Space Weeks and be programmed into the main NDT Season.

Apart from the well deserved boost this will give both Molino Group and the production, it means that people who can get to/live in London will be able to see ‘Desert’ (see map below) – probably this November. Which is all really good news and should mean that there will be more in the future. Great stuff!

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New Diorama Theatre tweet:

The first supported Two Night Stand of 2014/15 Season is the incredible with the politically charged Desert in Nov.

We will let you know more as details are confirmed->

First New Diorama date SUN 1ST NOV BOOK http://newdiorama.com/whats-on/desert

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