The Nether at the Royal Court – Review

The Nether by Jennifer Haley, Royal Court, LondonCrime-thriller meets dystopian tale of technology, with a twist of a love story thrown in. Right. Boy was this brilliant. A good first third of Jennifer Haley’s play you’re enticed by the riddles of the crime story until it all begins to click together, just before it draws to its piercing conclusion.

Throughout, you are faced with two worlds – the real world and a gaming pseudo-world of internet make-believe.  Real life is presented to us downstage until pixelated images projected on a screen backdrop start to portray second life, which peals up to magically reveal behind a beautifully constructed reality of the pixels. A crazily inventive, deliciously beautiful set by Ez Devlin, with an entire make-believe world of a ‘child’s’ bedroom and the sunlit woodland beyond. This enticingly, gorgeously real set design, nostalgic and reminiscent of the 19th century, makes the characters’ desire to cross over into the sensations and delights of the virtual world it creates utterly believable.

The Nether interrogates the legality, ethics and nature of reality of that thing we call the internet. It asks that ever-recurring, philosophical question about the connections between virtual actions and ramifications in real life. Fundamentally, it comes uncomfortably face to face with paedophilia, however virtual. Papa (David Beams) is a second-life entrepreneur of The Hideaway, who allows his customers the freedom to play, sexually and violently, with a second-life child called Iris. Every bit beguiling, blonde and seductive, after the customers are done she invites them to slay her with an axe. Here we encounter dark desires, veiled in internet anonymity.

Back IRL, in the crime drama, Morris – played with tough indignation by Amanda Hale – pursues the internet history of Sims (Stanley Townsend). His activities in the Nether are under suspicion. Expertly crafted, Haley’s script knits together real life and the nether realm with pay offs that concede utter satisfaction.

The Nether transfers to the Duke of York’s Theatre on 30 January 2015.