By David Hennessy
Jennifer Haley’s The Nether, starring Amanda Hale and Stanley Townsend, takes its audience into a dark future where people can live out their deepest and darkest fantasies online, rejecting the real world in favour of the virtual one called The Nether.
Although Townsend’s Mr Sims, who has developed an alternative reality with perfect sensation, argues that he is doing no harm and in fact is protecting everyone by providing a safe place for paedophiles to live out their dark desires with no children getting hurt.
Amanda Hale’s Detective Morris was turned against the virtual world by watching her father spend more time in it than watching her grow up. She believes the nether is dangerous and criminal but finds enforcing the real law for crimes committed in a virtual world problematic.
The play switches between the police interview room scenes and flashbacks that show an undercover police officer and his time in Sims’ Hideaway. The set is impressive with Sims choosing a Victorian house and idyllic forests for his design. The graphics that appear on screen before giving way to these scenes are powerful and really help with the feeling of taking a look at a nightmare future.
In a recent interview with The Irish World, Amanda Hale spoke of co-star Stanley Townsend’s performance and how it brought the right charisma to a character that would otherwise be easy to hate. While Townsend brings as much sympathy to the role as possible, we found it hard to see this and were firmly on the side of Hale’s detective.
It is easy to be unsettled by The Nether as it is easy to picture such a situation. Already many people are obsessed with how many Facebook likes or Twitter followers they have. Virtual worlds already exist and some users find them so addictive, they spend little time off them. Second Life would be the best known example.
One of the characters in The Nether is a former teacher who talks about “crossing over”, leaving the real world to live out his days in The Hideaway. Could we see people crossing over in years to come? Perhaps, we’re seeing the start of it now.
The Nether is at Royal Court Theatre until August 9. For more information, go to http://www.royalcourttheatre.com/.