Headlong and the Royal Court continue to produce ground breaking and brave theatre that always challenges and thrills. It is rarely seen as sound commercial fare however so it is fantastic that the ever prolific Sonia Friedman has gallantly decided to bring The Nether into the West End. It’s certainly not one for the coach parties on a Wednesday afternoon mind you but is a must see for anyone else.
It is as absorbing as it is disturbing and shines a devastating light on what the future could hold and on how the mistakes we are making today in our online worlds could lead to appalling consequences for society later on. In an undisclosed future the world of the internet has progressed into something more immersive, the Nether. Almost Matrix like users can log in to the nether and become other people and be surrounded by environments built just for them and their needs. None of it is real so there are no consequences.
It is here that Jennifer Haley’s story gets very dark indeed. Does an inconsequential existence in an unreal world mean that you can do anything? Murder? Paedophilia? If it’s not real is it OK? If these fantasies are being realised virtually does it stop them being realised in the real world? This is a play full of questions, uncomfortable ones and disturbing ones. Questions that you don’t want to answer, or even ask but questions that you know are just around the corner in the desensitised world in which we now live.
Amanda Hale emotionally plays an investigator looking into the dealings of Stanley Townsend’s brilliantly cold Sims. As his Nether persona known only as Papa, Sims has created a world for men to visit where they can abuse children whilst finishing their visits by killing the child. The child that Papa has created is Iris and is brutally aware of what is happening to her repeatedly. All she wants is to be loved it would appear.
The unlikely relationships that develop and slowly and shockingly show themselves add another layer of complexity. David Calder as Doyle and Ivanno Jeremiah as Woodnut both take it in turns to carry shocking revelations each one of them making you question every assumption that you have made to that point. This is brilliant writing.
The design team have created a mesmerising world that suits the piece splendidly. The trademark Headlong projection is nothing short of stunning and looks every inch the futuristic world that it should juxtaposing superbly with some of the Victorian feels of Pappa’s hideaway.
At just 1 hour and 20 minutes with no interval this races along quicker than your brain can work out what you make of it and will leave you deciphering it all long afterwards. Catch it while you can.