The Nether at Duke of York’s
At the heart of The Nether lies an increasingly pertinent quandary: when technology can effectively bring the imagination to life, should the imagined realm be subject to real world laws and principles?
Jennifer Haley’s compelling work is set in a future where the internet has evolved into The Nether, a space offering not so much a virtual as an alternative reality, populated by avatars in human form and limited only by the skill of those who programme its hyper-realistic environments.
One such programmer, Sims (Stanley Townsend), is under investigation by those governing this descendent of the World Wide Web due to his creation of The Hideaway. This Victorian-themed retreat is home to Sims’ avatar Poppa, and another in the form of Iris, a nine-year-old girl with whom guests are invited to enact dark fantasies, which – in the offline world at least – are unquestionably reprehensible.
As so often with great art, The Nether is as much about the questions it inspires among the audience as the action on stage. With a gradually simmering pace, those watching are lead into a moral maze and then left to think their own way out. Though the villains of the piece, Sims and fellow deviant Mr Doyle (David Calder) are self-aware and urbane; no cackling cartoon bogey men here. Also inhabiting such grey areas, Amanda Hale is given reign to brilliantly portray the slipping halo of the initially virtuous investigator Morris.
As well as receiving nominations for best new play and best supporting actress (earned by the trio of youngsters sharing the role of Iris throughout the run), The Nether is in the running for an Olivier Award for best set design, and rightly so. The intricate and beautiful set blends video graphics with innovative staging across suspended platforms in a way that stylishly marks a palpable descent into the otherworldly dark heart of the piece.
The transfer to Duke of York’s Theatre follows a sold out run at The Royal Court. The extended opportunity to see this masterful play is one that should be grabbed with both hands.
The Nether is on at Duke of York’s Theatre until 25th April 2015, for further information or to book visit here.