Sunday, 8 March 2015

The Nether: Review

Between the Royal Court and the innovative Headlong, it is almost a foregone conclusion that the show you are about to see will make you think, questioning your own morals and opinions. In their latest piece, The Nether, recently transferring to the West End's Duke of York's Theatre, they create an online world in which complete and total sensory immersion is the goal. Taste, smell, touch and even sex are achievable sensations. The play debates the role of the internet in our lives now and in the future, as well as crossing the uncharted boundaries of debating paedophilia on stage.

The Nether by Jennifer Hayley
credit Johan Persson
Sims (left), played by  Stanley Townsend, and Morris, played by Amanda Hale.

Jennifer Haley's script is phenomenally written; in a play which is a cross between cop thriller and exploration of this extraordinary realm, she manages to make the time fly effortlessly, even embedding humor at some of the darkest points in her 80 minute play. Combined with the set design of Es Devlin, who was responsible for the Closing Ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games and Kanye West's Yeezus tour, blows your mind as the interrogative grey wall falls for the first time and we are transported into The Hideaway - where "customers" are able to, through the use of avatars, have sex with children - reminiscent of a Victorian manor house, tall Poplar trees and Elk heads along with the delicacy of Iris' bedroom lulling us into a false sense of security and triggering gasps from the audience each time it was unveiled. Working in cohesion with the excellent videos of Luke Halls, the transformation from reality to virtual reality is insane, questioning which of the two actually is more real.

The astonishing visuals of the production are matched by an excellent cast; Amanda Hale was good as Morris, who interrogates the users of The Hideaway, however at times towards the end of the play lost some volume. David Calder who played Doyle was especially convincing and heartbreaking in the final scene, whilst Stanley Townsend was haunting as Sims, leading us to question the morality of his actions. The role of Woodnut was played by understudy Will Irvine but he put in such a strong performance it is hard to see how he is simply an understudy. The role of nine year old Iris was played by Isabella Pappas who, quite frankly, was extraordinary. Her genuine innocence, love and affection displayed would be unrecognisable in many actresses older and more experienced than her, so watch out for that name!

The Nether by Jennifer Hayley
credit Johan Persson
Iris (left), played by Isabella Pappas, and Woodnut, played by Ivanno Jeremiah. 

The Nether makes you ask very uncomfortable questions: how safe is the internet? Can we allow making our dreams a reality, albeit a virtual one? Is having sex with an avatar in a virtual reality a truly negative thing if it ensures that these men do not repeat their behaviour in the real world? Jeremy Herrin's sublime direction, combined with superb sets, video and an excellent cast to pose these difficult questions in a way which will stick with every audience member for a long time after the show has finished. As a result, the show will never achieve a standing ovation, as much as it deserves one. Buy tickets, I urge you. The Nether changes the way we think, and is superb in the way it does so.

The Nether is currently running at The Duke of York's Theatre until the 25th April 2015. Tickets are available from the theatre box office, by calling 0844 871 3051, or by visiting their website

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