Arts Reviews

The Nether @ NNT

Intense, compelling, and at times, disturbing are a few ways to describe NNT’s production of Jennifer Haley’s play, The Nether. The audience are instantly fixated on the thought-provoking story and are encouraged to take on the role of detective in order to work out what is unfolding in the play. The five actors do a fantastic job of keeping the audience fully engaged through a series of scenes that depict dark desires in a virtual world.    

The Nether sees young detective Morris, played by Jessica Lundholm, open an investigation into an area of The Nether, a virtual reality internet which provides sensory immersion, so that users can log in and indulge in all their desires. The Hideaway, a Victorian house, is the area that this production is most centred on, a beautifully created part of this world in which virtual children live for users to live out their violent and sexual desires.

This twisted form of pleasure is questioned by Morris, who questions the owner and clients for their reasons for the existence of such a reality in the online world, opening many questions as to the way that we use the internet.

“A performance that deals with these subjects with maturity”

Drawing on chilling themes such as paedophilia and violence, both the producer, Amy Naylor, and the director, Joe Strickland, have successfully created a performance that deals with these subjects with maturity. They have shown the way in which Haley’s oppressed characters find solace behind their computer screens, forcing the audience to question how we view social escapism and the way people project themselves to be in society.

This is one of the reasons why this performance is so captivating and chilling; the actors transport us into a dystopian nightmare future in which we are constantly tainted by our natural revulsion to people who seek such horrific thrills, and the fact that the children in The Nether are avatars.

In fact, who is who? The clues provided along the way generated a sense of mystery, giving the audience tools to work out the relationships between the characters on stage.

“Their representation of these characters was enhanced by the costumes”

Superb acting was displayed by all of the cast, particularly the characters of Papa, Doyle and Iris acted by Jack Ellis, Daniel McVey and Emma Pallett who dominated much of the play and performed respectively as the paedophiles and groomed virtual girl with great skill.

The difficulty of student actors playing an 8-year old girl and a 65-year old man seemed to have been easily overcome with the talents of these cast members. Their representation of these characters was enhanced by the costumes which truly helped to convey their age in the real world and their Victorian personas in the virtual world.

“Towards the end, flashing white lights were used effectively”

Lighting designer, Darcey Graham, used strobe lighting to the play’s advantage, creating a sense of being transported inside The Nether at scene changes, almost like a screen dividing the different realms. Towards the end, flashing white lights were used effectively, conveying the sense of the Hideaway dying.

At times, the lights did affect the audience’s visibility, which made particular points slightly uncomfortable, although this didn’t affect the overall show. The set and sense of space was used excellently, particularly in the final scene in which Pape and Doyle are both talking on stage, but not looking at one another, creating a powerful sense of time and reality as we are not sure where we are in the world anymore.

The Nether is definitely a shocking play, but one that I would highly recommend to watch. Full of interrogation, virtual reality and ghastly desires, it is a show about escapism. It is a play that may lead to audiences leaving the theatre more insightful, and probably with no desire to turn on their smartphone or computer for some time afterwards.

9/10 –  Unmissable, almost perfect                 

Shanai Momi

Image courtesy of the Nottingham New Theatre

‘The Nether’ is running at the Nottingham New Theatre until Saturday 11th March. For more information and where to find tickets see here.

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