There are some terrible things out there on the internet. Well, you’ve come to this site so you presumably already knew that.
American playwright Jennifer Haley‘s The Nether is dystopian, but we will not hold that against her, as it is also a disturbing thriller with a grim warning about the technological future. Set between two worlds, a dreary room where suspected paedophiles are being interviewed and The Hideaway, a murky virtual realm where visitors can interact with and touch, hurt, rape and repeatedly murder children with an axe. So no tap dancing then.
Is is better to allow people to live out their fantasies in a world that is unreal and won’t harm anyone or is this condoning and and encouraging them?
Morris (2007 Whingie Award winner Amanda Hale) is a detective doggedly trying to find the server for the virtual world created by a bullish middle-aged man, Sims (Stanley Townsend). He becomes “Poppa” an avuncular presence in his avatar state where he runs a guest house for wannabe nonces and he’s unrepentant about what he does. He’s not worried about what the neighbours might think as he spends so little time in the real world. Chilling.
The staging is knockout, one of the best Phil has ever seen. Es Devlin (another Whingie winner)’s sets with Luke Halls’ projections make the virtual world deliberately far more attractive and seductive than the real one, and the transitions between the two are visually stunning (don’t sit too near the front or you won’t get the full benefit). Phil felt he was being groomed by the design.
Jeremy Herrin‘s production felt slightly languid occasionally despite the whole play running at a mere 75 minutes, but there are several reveals to keep things gripping and the subject matter is never less than unsettling. It may have been something to do with expectations. Phil felt a similar way about another shocker, the highly praised thriller film It Follows which he saw the next day. But it was good to see the stalls in the Duke of York’s nearly full for a new play that tackles controversial subjects and contains no big “names”.
And it’s good to hear Burkina Faso mentioned in a play again. The last time we heard it was in Clybourne Park (another American play from the Royal Court tackling a tricky subject which also transferred to the West End courtesy of über-producer Sonia Friedman) and it was the first time Phil had seen the game Jacks played on a stage.
Even more unsettling is that the virtual child Iris, is played by a young girl and whoever she was when Phil saw it (Jaime Adler, Isabella Pappas or, most likely, Perdita Hibbins) she was excellent. It’s handled sensitively, but you do wonder just how much was explained to her. You won’t feel more uncomfortable anywhere else in the West End this year, unless you’re visiting the Trafalgar Studios of course.
Don’t come expecting to get many laughs, though there are a few disquieting chuckles to be had including the line “Don’t tell me you’ve never fu**ed an elf” which may be difficult to forget for those planning a trip to the Dominion this Christmas.
There maybe a deliberately uncomfortable ‘gag’ in the title. In the future the internet has morphed into the Nether. Net-her maybe? And if it has a life beyond London those with a twisted sense of humour can refer to the tour as The Nether Regions. Eek!