I saw this play back in the summer at the wonderful Royal Court in Sloane Square, but as it’s about to get a fresh run in the West End, thought a good chance to comment on it.
I remember getting an email advertising this play that just grabbed my attention. First there was the amazing interactive website to explain what the Nether is;
And then there was the explanation of the play, a detective story set in a futuristic world where the internet was all consuming. Beyond that I had no idea what to expect but it grabbed me enough to quickly get tickets. With no real expectation, I went along to see what it was all about, and I can safely say, the one thing I wasn’t expecting was a play that at its very basic level was a world of pedophilia!
It starts out in what appears to be an interview room in a police station. This could be any town in any country, there is nothing to give it location or time frame. There is no explanation of what the crime being investigated is at this early stage, you join the interview not at the beginning but some way through, so there are many questions already hanging in the air. It’s a perfect start to a play, drawing you instantly in as you try to work out the context of the interview.
The interviews are of the two main suspects, and these are interspersed with flashbacks. The flashbacks take you into the Nether, the virtual reality world which is the internet of the future, no more sitting and typing, but rather one where you feel and touch and are part of it all. They slowly show you what the crime is supposed to be, but then the question starts to be, is there actually a crime at all, after all, this is the internet and virtual reality, how can you commit a crime there?
You soon learn that one of those being interviewed is the man who invented this particular realm, maybe consider it a chat room of the future, a room that is you see and feel as an idealistic old fashioned home, with the participants all dressed as if it’s the 18th century, not the near future. It’s an innocent feel, but an innocence that is shattered as you realise the purpose of the sweet young girl in the old fashioned dress smiling at the middle aged man she sees as her father. And she isn’t just there for the father, but the paying guests too. Yes, it is that sinister.
The play moves along at a fast pace, at only one hour and twenty minutes, it doesn’t have time to meander along too much. And maybe it’s this fast pace that adds to the tension that is generated as the story unfolds. The interviewer and interviewee even drag their own chairs away as the set changes from interview room to virtual reality world, the sound of scrapping chairs could almost be deliberate. There is some great lighting as well to add to the changing scenes that no doubt will be even more impressive when the play moves to the West End.
As the truth of what is happening in the virtual world unfolds it becomes very uncomfortable viewing. And slowly you realise the connections between the people in the real world and the virtual world, again, it becomes even more uncomfortable, but equally it’s compelling viewing.
It’s certainly not a play for the light-hearted. But for those who are willing to try it, it is worth eighty minutes of your life. And if like me, you enjoy something that leaves you questioning your perceptions and thoughts, this is clearly one for you. It doesn’t leave you asking whether pedophilia is right or wrong, that hopefully is a question we all know the answer too. Rather the questions are the rights and wrongs of what we think, how we play out our fantasies, and where the real world and the virtual world collide, and maybe how we will be using the internet in the future.
If you want to know more, check out the play’s own website at http://www.thenetherplay.com/