Hacking it

Kerr in rehearsals. Picture: Johan Persson
Kerr in rehearsals. Picture: Johan Persson

By David Hennessy

In the wake of the furore over the hacking and leaking of naked pictures of celebrities, The Royal Court will be tackling another current issue with their new play Teh Internet is Serious Business, with hacking being its subject.

After meeting each other on the website 4Chan around 2006, a group realised how strong they could be speaking with one voice. Calling themselves Anonymous (which is what the individuals posted as), they went to war with a neo-Nazi media personality, the church of Scientology and when PayPal blocked contributions to WikiLeaks, they turned their attention to PayPal. Later on, Anonymous used their know how to assist the people with Egypt against an oppressive government.

Another group Lulzsec were largely Anonymous members who wanted to make trouble but without the social conscience.

The play Teh Internet is Serious Business is Tim Price’s fictional account of the true story of what happened when a 16-year-old London schoolboy and an 18-year-old recluse in Shetland met online and picked a fight with the FBI and changed the world forever.

Hacking activists Anonymous and Lulzsec hit the headlines in 2011 after a number of big corporations were caught off-guard by the group in a series of high profile attacks that resulted in an international investigation and several arrests, including of the two British teenagers Mustafa Al-Bassam and Jake Davis.

The Irish World caught up with the Irish cast members Kerr Logan and Eileen Walsh to chat about the play.

Kerr Logan

Kerr Logan from Bangor in Northern Ireland is recognisable from previous roles in Sky’s Game of Thrones, Channel 4’s London Irish and the Terri Hooley biopic, Good Vibrations but is delighted with the chance Teh Internet is Serious Business gives him to get back onstage:  “This is the first theatre I’ve done in two and a half years so that was another reason why I was absolutely drawn to this piece, because I think you really need to keep you hand in. I love doing TV and film so much but I just think theatre is just one of those things, it’s just so different performing in front of a live audience.

“It’s just exciting to be a part of because it’s just so new and they’re trying to do stuff that’s so relevant so sometimes you might be dealing with taboo subjects.

“I’m playing two parts. I’m playing an Irish guy called Darren Martyn who was the Irish contingent of the elite hacking group. Strangely enough, I actually wrote to him on Twitter with the amazing world of social network now where you can just write to anyone. And the lovely man Darren Martyn was in London one night and I just picked his brain about how he got involved in it and all his reasons behind it.

“It’s just fascinating because all these kids are 20 or 21 now and at the time that they kind of took down the CIA’s website and hacked PayPal, they were about 16 or 17 so it’s an incredible story about these young guys that were morally far more advanced than their years and were doing real activism online. It’s just mind-boggling that people that young had such a high moral compass in order to do that is kind of amazing.”

London Irish

Kerr with the cast of London Irish
Kerr with the cast of London Irish

Kerr played Conor in Channel 4 comedy London Irish. It’s fair to say the show received a mixed response with some particularly scathing criticism from those who felt it played on old Irish stereotypes. On the topic, Kerr responds: “It was very strange really. We had a very, very mixed response I think but I think we were always going to have that.

“It’s not playing on old stereotypes, it’s actually that we’ve moved so far on and it’s obviously going to hit sore points in people but that was kind of the point of the show. It was supposed to get that reaction and supposed to question people: Why do you think like that? Do you think people really see Irish people like that? No, so why can’t we actually just laugh at it?

“Ardal said when Father Ted first came out, he had a priest hold him up against the wall by his throat, saying: ‘How do you think I’m supposed to take my choir now?’

“It’s genuinely not meant to damage anything, any sort of comedy is meant to pick on sore points and laugh at them but the whole idea is that you’re meant to go: Why is this a sore point for me? Why can’t we move on? Why is this still a sticking point?

“Even in my own family there were some people who absolutely loved it and then there were some cousins and uncles who absolutely hated it, thought it was completely racist. I certainly didn’t think it was too strong or I wouldn’t have done it.

“All the cast and everyone who made it is so pro-Northern Ireland, so pro-Ireland. We were all kind of sad that people took it like that and didn’t see what we were trying to do with the show and just have a good old laugh, never there to offend the masses or anything.”

Eileen Walsh

Eileen Walsh from Cork has already starred in two productions at The Royal Court Theatre to date, in Sarah Kane’s Crave and Sand. Her other theatre credits have seen her star alongside Cillian Murphy in the stage production of Disco Pigs, appear in Hamlet at the Young Vic, feature in Macbeth at the Abbey Theatre and at The National Theatre in Liola. Eileen’s screen work includes the harrowing Magalene Sisters and Nicholas Nickleby.

The Irish World catch up with Eileen just as preparations move into the space: “We start dealing with sets, actual walls, things flying in. You suddenly realise, ‘I can’t do that quick change’ because we’re all playing a couple of different characters so there’ll be a lot of running around backstage, looking for costumes and everything so it’s all about timing for the next few days.

“There are two main characters that I’m playing, one is Jake’s mother. When Anonymous, their massive hacking group were finally discovered, they turned out to be two very young teenage boys, one in a small house in Shetland so I’m playing his mother.

“Then I play one of the American hackers who’s called Jennifer Emick. None of the other hackers really like her because she ended up doxing which is naming one of the main men in Anonymous and obviously that’s one of the worst things you could do, that’s like snitching. She gave the FBI his name, address, social security number. They then got revenge on her and it all became very bitter and aggressive but she’s still out there, she’s still working in the industry. Amazing, it’s kind of odd playing somebody who is a real person. That’s always challenging.”

What must add to the challenge must be the fact that Eileen has to play Jennifer’s real online persona: “Everybody that you will see will be though Jake or Mustafa’s eyes so it’s their impression of these people and who you are online is very different to who you are offline so you’ve got lots of these young boys who can be big men online. My hacker, online, thinks she is much cooler than she is I think which ends up being quite naff. The person who tries to be the coolest is the least cool in the room.”

Although Kerr was able to get in touch with the person his hacker character is based on, Eileen had no desire to do the same: “I wouldn’t be in touch with her because I would be slightly fearful of encouraging them into my life. These people are pretty intense and I think you need to respect them, I don’t want them to come after me or do whatever. At the end of the day I’m just doing my job. Their story is fascinating and I think with mutual respect around it, I don’t want to be in touch with her because I need to tell the story.”

The Magdalene Sisters

Eileen Walsh in The Magdalene Sisters
Eileen Walsh in The Magdalene Sisters

Eileen starred in Peter Mullan’s critically acclaimed film, The Magdalene Sisters which highlighted the systematic abuse that took place in the institutions for ‘fallen women’ in Ireland. It would be over a decade after the film made an international impact that the Irish State made a full apology and launched a compensation scheme for those who were physically, sexually, or emotionally abused as children between the 1930s and the 1990s.

Eileen still gets feedback from the 2002 film: “I still get people who spot me in a coffee shop. It’s amazing. I wish I had more work like that but I’m also very grateful that even if you get to do one film that is so strong and as powerful as that then so be it, a lot of people don’t get that chance even. I’m very proud of it and I remain very good friends with those girls still and that itself is a wonderful testament, that now ten years later we’re all still good mates because of it.”

Did Eileen hear from survivors from the institutions themselves? “That happened a lot at the time that people felt the need to come and tell you that they were so grateful that the story was out because they themselves had been in or they were the child of someone who had been in and they were looking for their parents, incredibly sad. I think what Peter did was a massive help to a lot of people just to put it out there.

“It’s interesting. You can be in the middle of rehearsals and finding it all very difficult and tend to go: ‘Come on now, lads. It’s only a job, we’re not saving baby’s lives here so just get the work done’. Then you do something like The Magdalene Sisters, you kinda go, ‘God, you can do something that is like saving babies’ lives as well’. It is about helping women in particular find the strength to stand up and say ‘that happened to me’ and ‘that’s not okay’, and how Ireland has changed because of it nearly. It was definitely a push and it’s a massive thing to be part of.”

For the full feature, see the September 20 Irish World. 

Teh Internet is Serious Business runs at The Royal Court Theatre from September 17 to October 25. For more information, go to www.royalcourttheatre.com.

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