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Review: The Haystack, at Hampstead Theatre

Fast-paced tech thriller follows millennial security agents who pry in the name of intelligence gathering

13 February, 2020 — By Catherine Usher

Oliver Johnstone, Enyi Okoronkwo and Sarah Woodward in The Haystack. Photos: Ellie Kurtzz

FOCUSING on two young tech geeks and their roles as unlikely agents in the world of British national security, The Haystack is a terrifying exploration of how far the powers that be are prepared to pry in the name of essential intelligence gathering.

At the centre of the investigation is Neil (Oliver Johnstone), who takes an ill-advised, excessive interest in tenacious (and attractive) Guardian journalist Cora (Rona Morison).

The observations about millennials flow thick and fast and are highly enjoyable – the kickstarter campaigns, aspirational blogging, obsession with dating via apps and inability to chat each other up in the pub.

And the movement around the stage, as Neil flits between conversations with Cora and dialogue with colleague Zef (Enyi Okoronkwo), is expertly done.

Sarah Woodward as Hannah

Although there’s a lot to fit in, the two hours 45 minutes running time feels overlong and could have easily been cut down. The buddy relationship between Neil and Zef, for example, is slightly over-egged and could have been trimmed.

The (lack of) moral issues about spying on the public are topical given the current political climate and the suggestion that several “suicides” are dubious is unsettling. Questions are constantly asked about the idea that people shouldn’t worry if they have nothing to hide – there’s a huge difference between criminal activity and privacy, after all.

Rona Morison as Cora

It’s no surprise to learn that playwright Al Blyth is a screenwriter. His first full-length play, directed by Roxana Silbert, has a fast-paced, highly visual, cinematic quality which showcases the tech thriller genre.

Yet, despite the intrusion into Cora’s privacy and all that it entails, one perplexing question is never addressed – how could a 20-something journalist be out of work for six months and still afford her studio flat and quite a few bottles of booze? That remains a puzzler.

Until March 7
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