Teh Internet Is Serious Business*** (Royal Court Theatre)

Posted: September 25, 2014 in Theatre

Internet_510x340Enigmas of teh internet seem to be preoccupying playwrights this year. Following Privacy at the Donmar and The Nether at this theatre, Tim Price chips in with a further dissertation  on the darker side of a tool that is supposed to illuminate and enhance all our lives. All three plays wrestle with the problem of how freedom of information and freedom of expression can continue unfettered when those freedoms are shared by bullies, perverts, terrorists and many others who would seek to do us harm. Price’s play, based on fact, tells of two teenage boys – Jake (Kevin Guthrie), an agoraphobe from Shetland and Mustapha (Hamza Jeetooa), a geeky misfit from Southwark – are lured into  a world of hackers and trolls, joining a global group that starts by making mischief and ends committing serious crime. Taking an aversion to Tom Cruise (one of Sargon Yelda’s multiple roles), they launch a cyber attack on the Church of Scientology, follow it with similar attacks on banks and multinational corporations, culminating with the FBI and the CIA. Teh internet empowers them and gives meaning to their inadequate lives, but it also divorces the group from the real world and plays havoc with their collective and individual moral compasses. Watching the first half of Hamish Pirie’s production feels a bit like being a bystander at a school playground. Emoticons, avatars and other brightly coloured, mostly inexplicable characters and objects flash before our eyes in a frenzied display of images which attempt to bring to life the spirit of the virtual world. Not getting all of this is probably down to the generation divide, but the impression left is that the dividing line could be as low as age 15 and a glossary of terms and images provided at the theatre door is not much help to those of us who are slightly older. Somewhere amidst the chaos of this vivid and quite elaborate staging there is a story struggling to break through. The second half is much more sedate, gaining in clarity what it loses in energy, but running almost completely out of steam in its later stages. Jake’s summarising speech directly to the audience is a superb piece of writing, but it is an awkward device which is rendered superfluous when it is followed by a sweet postscript in which four words and two smiles (real ones) say it all.

Performance date: 24 September 2014

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