The Nether***** (Royal Court Theatre)

Posted: July 23, 2014 in Theatre

700x650.fitTaking a leap into the near future where the internet has expanded to become “the nether”, Jennifer Haley’s play is an all too credible detective thriller which explores a parallel universe of infinite possibilities. Morris (Amanda Hale) is an officer policing the nether and she is first seen interrogating Sims (Stanley Townsend), the creator of a role-playing site which offers “a world without consequences” where killers and paedophiles can indulge their grim fantasies unimpeded. He argues that he is providing an outlet for harmful practices and removing them from society; she counters that the site will nurture tastes and experiences which will inevitably filter back to hit the real world. The interrogation room is grey and unadorned, furnished with just a table and two chairs and then stunning computer-generated images appear on a huge screen and they lead us into the nether, which lies above and behind the room. An interior set resembles a Tenniel drawing, complete with a not so innocent “Alice” and an exterior set is a garden at the edge of a forest, which, with the aid of mirrors, appears to go on into infinity. Es Devlin’s incredible designs create a virtual world that is, at the same time, breathtakingly beautiful and horribly sinister. The play goes on to reveal who are the real figures behind the avatars that we see in the nether and to analyse the moral and ethical issues affecting modern society as it becomes increasingly dependent upon the internet, but seems incapable of keeping it under control. Haley’s writing is intelligent and suspenseful, Jeremy Herrin directs a production that is taut and brisk. The play, which is spellbinding throughout its 80 minutes, delivers something like a short, sharp shock.

Performance date: 22 July 2014

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