The Nether review – dark desires in a nightmare world

Royal Court, London
Chilling warning of virtual paedophilia in a dystopian future

There are plays – such as Great Britain, Richard Bean's recent take on the phone-hacking crisis – that react with quicksilver swiftness to the times we live in. Then there are plays that take the times we live in, screw them up into a ball and chuck them over the fence.

The Nether, written by the Los Angeles-based dramatist Jennifer Haley and directed by Headlong's Jeremy Herrin, is in the latter category. Haley has taken as her subject several of the most fearsome betes noires of our age: paedophilia, the internet's sinister imaginative power, and the symbiotic relationship between the two.

Our setting is, we presume, America, some years in the future. Here, in an interrogation room, Detective Morris (Amanda Hale) is questioning a man named Sims (Stanley Townsend) about his activities in the Nether, an all-encompassing virtual universe that is the bloated, grotesque descendant of the internet. As his avatar, Papa, Sims has created a nostalgic, pseudo-Victorian haven called the Hideaway, where paying guests can indulge their darkest desires with a series of eerily identical children.

To reveal more would be to undermine Haley's expertly crafted script, and the tension ratcheted up by Herrin's hauntingly effective production. Suffice it to say, this is a compelling, profoundly disturbing 80 minutes of theatre, hammered home by some of the best visuals I've ever seen on stage, superbly conceived by set designer Es Devlin and video designer Luke Halls. At the play's end, the world – both real and virtual – simply doesn't look quite the same.


Laura Barnett

The GuardianTramp

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