The Nether review - February 2015
A hard show to stomach but raises some meaningful questions.Headlong are like the Charlie Brooker of the theatre world, regular bringing technology based dialectics to the stage in thought provoking and cutting edge productions. Their latest offering, The Nether, is no exception.
The Nether is set in a kind of dystopian future in which people can pretty much jump inside the internet within a chosen avatar, kind of like the Sims, but WAY more advance and WAY darker. For instance, participants can taste what their avatar tastes, see what they see and perhaps most concerning of all, feel what they feel.
An interesting concept alone, however Jennifer Haley’s The Nether delves in further into the realm to question its ethics; is it okay for potential paedophiles and murders to “express themselves” in virtual reality, feeding a sickness but harming nobody? This is what detective Morris (Amanda Hale) tries to decipher throughout the piece as she exposes a virtual paedophile ring in a constructed areas of The Nether called The Hideaway.
Haley and director Jeremy Herrin’s concept is matched in equal strength by the tirelessly fabulous Es Devlin’s design, which reflects virtual reality at its most cutting edge. This is total theatre at its best and with designs this strong the show certainly captivates its audience and draws them in to its imagined realms as well as real spaces.
Whilst the character of Morris irritated me a touch (I found Hale a bit shrill) the actors dealt with the subject matter with professionalism and sensitivity, which is no easy task considering the subject matter.
Particularly stand out were Ivanno Jeremiah as Woodnut and Zoe Brough Iris. The power play between Woodnut and Iris made for fascinating viewing as Jeremiah brought naivety and sensitivity to the role whilst Brough brought a flicker of manipulation.
Ultimately, It is Devlin's designs that truly make this piece. What could have been a scenic pipedream became a reality (or virtual reality) on stage thanks to her continued flair for all things visual.
All in all The Nether is a hard show to stomach but it's lack of definite resolution makes for fascinating viewing, leaving the audience to determine where they stand on the debate for themselves.
23 February 2015, Duke of York's Theatre