Jennifer Haley’s futuristic The Nether enjoyed its UK premiere at the Royal Court Theatre, and the successful and visually stunning production has now transferred to the Duke of York Theatre.
Set at an unknown time in the future, the Internet has become a total sensory immersive experience and is called The Nether. Many people spend the majority of their waking hours online, with ‘shades’ choosing to ‘cross’ fully and leave their bodies shrivelling up on life support machines ‘in-world’. Detective Morris is investigating the Nether dealings of a secretive advanced coder known as Papa, who has created a seemingly idyllic Victorian era escape called The Hideaway. Paying guests can visit and experience the sight, sound, feel and smell of trees, which are increasingly rare in-world. But trees are not the only things that can be seen, heard, touched and smelt: within The Hideaway live four angelic children with whom guests can play. The mention of blood dripping axes on the wall the first ominous sign something sinister takes place here. But if everyone ‘playing’ the parts of the guests and children at The Hideaway are consenting over eighteens can things experienced in The Nether really be immoral and unethical, or are they as Papa suggests: without consequence?
Questioning whether executing sexual and murderous acts online causes users to replicate them in real life feels dreadfully current in a time when we have easy access to violent computer games and porn, and when extremist organisations use sophisticated online recruitment techniques to reel people in. But The Nether delves deeper to question how we should, or could deal with sexual perversion. If everyone is a consenting adult is there still the risk of harm? Can sexual ‘sickness’ be treated by enacting fantasies online?
It makes for a brave but deeply troubling piece, the unease of the audience choreographed through the skilful structure of the play. The set is a marvel, combining images of technology and nostalgia to invoke a frighteningly realistic new world. Perdita Hibbins the eleven year old who plays the pivotal role of Iris, one of The Hideaway’s children, delivered an unnervingly mature performance. Which raises a serious question about the suitability and exposure of this material to a child? Due to the complex sexual issues involving minors explored in this play I would not recommend it for those under the age of sixteen.
The Nether by Jennifer Haley is on at the Duke of York theatre until 25th April.
The housing crisis is clearly the hot topic of the moment, as explored by both Game by Mike Bartlett at the Almeida Theatre and now Philip Ridley’s Radiant Vermin at Soho Theatre.
On a sparse brilliant white stage a young couple Jill and Ollie, played by Gemma Whelan and Sean Michael Verey, tell us about how they came to have their dream home. They are offered a free, but run down house in a dilapidated part of town by a Mephistopheles figure called Miss Dee, played with aplomb by Amanda Daniels. When Ollie accidentally kills a homeless intruder and the vagrant’s body disappears and is replaced by Jill’s dream kitchen, the couple realise renovations on their home rely on a murder.
Ridley’s funny and energetic satire on greed and consumerism races along, as the couple try to convince you their actions are in the best interests of their child. The play builds toward a truly extraordinaire party scene, where Whelan and Michael Verey exhilaratingly play a total of twelve characters at speed and with huge success. A triumph of writing, acting, and direction: it was quite a spectacle.
A clever, amusing and probing satire Radiant Vermin asks the question of the audience: what would you do? Well, I would go and see this play.
Radiant Vermin by Philip Ridley is on at the Soho Theatre until 12th April.
Game, the world premiere of Mike Barlett’s new satire on the housing crisis, is currently being staged at the Almeida Theatre, London. The audience are split into four groups and given headphones to wear while they sit on camouflage-decorated benches. Behind raising electronic shutters in front of them is an aspirational house: the startlingly realistic set is eerily reminiscent of those properties used for the reality TV show Big Brother.
The audience peer into the house to watch an unemployed couple, played by Jodie McNee and Mike Noble, as they look around. At the same time images on suspended televisions above show the proprietor of the Game, played by Daniel Cerqueria, showing an ex-army recruit, played by Kevin Harvey, around the hides. It’s at that moment you realise you, the audience, are in the hide. You are more than a mere audience member; you are part of the Game. In exchange for living in the house for free, the young couple have agreed that they will be used as target practice: punters will pay to stalk them the other side of the one-way glass and shoot them with darts that render them unconscious. A disturbing concept.
As you watch punters visit and take their shots – a posh passive aggressive married couple, a drunken hen do – it feels disconcertingly realistic. Distastefully voyeuristic. I’m not a prudish person, but I turned away from televised scenes of the young couple having sex. I didn’t want to be on the same side of the glass as the punters. And I certainly didn’t want to be on the other. The play lasts a short sharp one hour, after which I was physically shaky. Bartlett, and the excellent performances by the actors, place you shoulder-to-shoulder with those exploiting this couple’s economic plight. As a friend said, she felt ‘dirty’ afterwards.
Though a powerful and affecting play, Game does suffer from an underdeveloped narrative arc, which left me wanting a stronger resolution. But perhaps being deeply moved not only by what I saw, but also what I experienced sat in that hide, is dramatic success enough.
Game, by Mike Barlett is on at the Almeida Theatre until Saturday 4th April.