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.