Teh Internet Is Serious Business at the Royal Court – Review

The reigning triumph of this foray into internet culture is the absence of the digital on stage. At every turn, Hamish Pirie takes Tim Price’s fictional account of LulzSec and the hacking phenomenon Anonymous and creates theatrical innovations for us to imagine the bewildering world wide web. There are no digital backdrops, no computers, no screens at all. Instead, meme characters prance on in vibrant costumes, coding is voiced in enigmatic monologues and duologues, and a kids’ ballpool for the actors to play in presents mischief and dynamism so characteristic of the digital age.

In our days of big data and the anonymity of social media, the rules of the internet are: there are no rules. Hacktivist groups like Anonymous can appear overnight. Our copyright and digital laws woefully amble behind the imagination and innovation needed to confront the fine lines between piracy and democracy; freedom of expression and illegality that troll and trawl the web. Tim Price’s play, however, confronts these issues head on with jovial sincerity.

Digital geekery here becomes beautiful expressionism. The teen locked away in his bedroom becomes the master painter of digital artistry. The lines of code the actors riddle off with astonishing rhythm and finesse become rap; internet music.  Just as we are enthralled and engrossed in the alternate theatrical universe staged, the characters are sucked in to their alternate lives; two second lives, each equally creative.

The play’s anarchy verges on offensive, with prolific swearing, unabated lolz, trolling and childish, near sadistic, glee with which the hackers break down cooperations. At other times, it strays into real irreverent joyfulness, remaking the infamous Harlem Shake and with whizzing choreography, as the actors fly through trap doors in the stage floor and walls.

Our stars are Mustafa (Hamza Jeetooa) a London schoolboy, and Jake (Kevin Guthrie) a young reclusive Shetlander. IRL (within the play, but then also IRL in real life…) their experiences are worlds apart, as are their stories as we begin the play. Soon though, the tumultuous internet throws them in together with LulzSec and what might have been individual tales of growing up become one zany story of global significance.

Overall, the humour of course relies a little on basic audience knowledge of internet and popular culture: 4chan, scientology and memes in particular. You’d still get it without that knowledge, but it wouldn’t be nearly as lolz, jokes, funny.

At the Royal Court until 25 October 2014.