Checkpoint: Tue 28 Mar – Sat 1 April 2017
Review by Thom Dibdin
Problematic, simply because of its subject matter, The Nether is given a solid and suitably powerful production by student company Paradok Theatre at Checkpoint to Saturday.
Set in the near future, writer Jennifer Haley’s Nether is an online world where immersion seems so real that it has replaced the internet and has taken over many forms of social interaction. Its ubiquity has reached the point where it is in danger of replacing real life – some users even live as Shades, never leaving the Nether.
If the social problem of the Nether is its realism, the moral crux for Haley is that its users can choose any online avatar they wish. When combined with a principle of anonymity, this allows them to be who – or what – ever they want to be. Existence in the Nether-world, then, is consequence-free.
Director Vlada Kravtsova reveals the rules and realities of this future world with easy strokes as she has Eilidh Northridge’s tense and uptight detective, Morris, interrogate Bradley Butler’s supercilious suspect, Sims.
It turns out that Sims has created his own world within the Nether, his Hideway which has strict rules of entry and even stricter ones of anonymity. There, adults who like to dress up as children can go and play – and create sexualised encounters with other adults who like to play with children.
And once this is established, there is space along Kathryn Weaving’s artfully designed transverse stage to reveal the Hideway encounters centre stage. At either end are more simple areas, table for Morris’s two interrogations of Sims and elderly professor, Doyle, who she has discovered is the adult behind the avatar child, Iris, who knows Sims in the Nether world as “Pappa”.
The moral ambiguities of this world of adult play, are quickly made obvious. Brett McCarthy Harrop is superbly childlike and innocent as the 12 year-old Iris and William Byam Shaw, is equally intense as Woodnut, the somewhat effete undercover detective sent by Morris to investigate the Hideaway.
Northridge makes for a brusque interviewer, suitably cutting in her comments but obviously conflicted in her feelings for the subject or her investigation. Butler is a bit less successful in the role of a real world entrepreneur, it questionable whether you believe him capable of creating what turns out to be the most perfectly rendered environment in the Nether.
Angus McHarg puts in a quiet but remarkable performance as Doyle. He not only succeeds in creating a character who is three times his own playing age with startling effect, but also reflects Doyle’s complex, needy character – embittered because his role as a professor is reduced because students are turning to Nether universities, but empowered by his new role as a 12 year old female prostitute in a sumptuous Victorian setting.
Crucially, Kravtsova ensures that Harrop’s subtly sensual Iris is believable as the alter ego of McHarg’s fallen Doyle. She also keeps alive the notion that this is very much a detective story, driven by a desire to discover how Morris found Sims – and what the outcome of that discovery will be.
ownership and control
However, there is more than one deep moral dillema at work. Indeed, the morality of play-acting a sexual relationship between and adult and a child is the gateway to other, perhaps harder, moral questions. Ones which are not just to do with a peripheral outcasts of our society, but ones which go right into the heart of the online world. Questions of ownership, regulation and control.
These are questions which we need to start addressing seriously if we are to make the future work for us and not become slaves to our machines. Or worse, to those who run our machines. And as a production, this begins to allow you to glimpse these questions from the corner of your eye, but you can’t help feeling that with a bit more conviction they would have been more than glimpsed.
That said, this already has plenty to ruminate over – and succeeds in being quite disturbing in the way it poses its questions.
Running time one hour, 30 minutes without interval
Checkpoint. 3 Bristo Place, EH1 1EY
Tuesday 28 March – Saturday 1 April.
Tickets from: www.sparkseat.com
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