The Nether

24 February, 2015
Royal Court Theatre West End Transfer (Duke of York’s Theatre)

by Jennifer Haley

Cast: Amanda Hale, Stanley Townsend, Ivanno Jeremiah, Zoe Brough, Isabella Pappas

Directed by: Jeremy Herrin

Summary: The Nether offers complete freedom – a new virtual wonderland providing total sensory immersion. Just log in, choose an identity and indulge your every desire.

The play starts with agent Morris alternately interrogating a Mr. Sims, who is the creator of the “Hideaway”, a virtual reality utopia he created to escape the real world, and a Mr. Doyle, who is a frequent visitor to the “Hideway”. The scenes jump between the two interrogations, who take place in a stark grey interrogation room, and the “Hideway”, a picturesque Victorian estate, where a little girl called Iris lives with Sims’ alter ego “Papa”, and a mysterious Mr. Woodnut is visiting for the first time. Slowly we find out that nobody in the “Hideway” is quite who they seem.

The 1 hour 20 minutes play is quite short, but densely packed with lots of dialogue, abrupt ends to scenes, and quick switches between the “in-world” and the “Hideaway”, almost seeming as if the audience is zapping through the channels of their telly. The acting of the entire cast is very solid throughout. I have to especially single out the girl playing Iris. It can’t be easy at that age to play a character like that.

Es Devlin’s set design is flawless (I expected nothing less), utilising the depth of the stage for the “Hideaway”, using glass, mirrors and trees to create a virtual reality in 3D, while the interrogation room is all grey steel and harsh monitors at the front of the stage.

There are some profound questions raised in this play: Is it really paedophilia, if you know that behind the virtual child is – probably – a consenting adult? And isn’t it better to act out certain proclivities in a virtual world with no consequences, than in the real world, where real harm can be done? Why condemn this virtual reality and the people who “live” in it, as long as they don’t take their character with them into the real world? Where are the boundaries? And how much virtual reality is too much virtual reality?

While the play is set in the future, you can’t help but compare certain elements to the alternate reality of the gaming world that already exists, where people spend days upon days doing extreme things (Grand Theft Auto being one of the most well-known examples), and some people carrying their game characters with them into the real world.

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