Vanishing into The Nether

After a couple of months of steady day-to-day employment, I’m back on the free reign train of twiddling my thumbs. I saw an advertisement about a short play called The Nether playing matinee times, and I knew that would not be something my husband would want to see. So I decided to get one of the last remaining seats and check it out.

I made my way to the Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square and meandered through the basement seating and squeezed between two rather large gentlemen. The space was quite old and cramped. I felt like I was seeing a play in New York City circa 1970 with the old, brown leather seats and the underground feel to the walls. I couldn’t help but think if there was a fire, how would everyone get out safely? Thankfully, this was not realized.

The set was very simple to begin with. There was a small table and two chairs and a large white screen behind. The only thing I knew about this performance was that it was science fiction. It was an impulse purchase when I saw the ad, much like getting gum at the grocery check out.

The play began and the first thing I noticed was the cast all spoke with American accents which I thought was really cool, until the subject matter became more and more clear.

The Nether is a new name for the Internet a few years into the future. People can log on to The Nether and live a separate life where they can indulge in fantasies they cannot in reality much like Second Life or even World of Warcraft. The story is a detective set on finding the man in charge of a place called The Hideaway where people can log in and indulge in pedophilia and the murder of small children. I won’t spoil the twist for anyone interested in seeing this performance or reading the novella by Jennifer Haley.

But the overall message seemed to be: is it better to have individuals live in a second, secret life online where they can indulge with no consequences but making the lifestyle grow into an online tumor, or to take down opportunities to get it out of the system and let these people run free in reality to pursue their impulses on actual children?

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There were many times throughout where I felt dirty and uncomfortable. Whilst in The Hideaway, the audience is subjected to see what happens to the child, or at least (thankfully) the leading up to it. The little girl who was the subject of these men’s desires was incredible. She not only nailed the American accent about 90% of the time, but she held no hesitation in her actions. But the thought did cross my mind if she knew exactly what she was doing and implying, and more importantly, do her parents know?

I have to take a moment to mention the set. It was quite extraordinary. The white wall or screen had a host of projections on it depending on if you were watching the interrogations or the scenes unfold within The Hideaway. But while inside The Hideaway, the scenes looked peaceful and immaculate. Trees lined the perimeter and you felt as if you were standing in a small child’s room complete with rocking chair and doll house. The room was covered in full length mirrors to give the illusion that this went on forever but also was artificial.

With the limited resources on space, I believe the production team did an excellent job portraying the two realms both in reality and in The Nether with a blatant message of stop living online and live in the real world. I’m just confused as to why it was told in an American accent. Jennifer Haley is an American playwright based out of Los Angeles, but I’m talking about the decision to make her actors American in a London theatre.

Americans are not the only people plugged into the Internet. Was this finger pointing to a far away so the audience can disengage or are the Brits too scared to look in their own backyard? Still in the news is the revelations of the late Jimmy Savile and others that litter the newspaper on a weekly basis.

I was mildly offended by this and would have liked to ask why they made that creative decision, but we were all rushed out of the theatre to make way for cleaning and the next performance.

I will say the play was very interesting, and I did enjoy it and how it pushed the boundaries with a controversial topic. Jeff was saying for Skylight he wish had felt more of the tension and squirmed in his seat more instead of feeling the humor break too soon. Well, this had plenty of seat squirming and stomach churning.

The Nether plays through August 9, 2014 at the Royal Court Theatre.

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