Hope Street Theatre, Liverpool – until Saturday 29th September 2018
Reviewed by Julie Noller
The Nether, a play written by Jennifer Haley and set in the not so distant future of 2050 it’s about a virtual reality cousin of the internet. To conceive this be a gritty crime thriller, where a young detective uncovers the disturbing truth behind its so called brand of entertainment will have you as confused as I was. In fact to say I left the theatre well and truly with my mind blown is an understatement. How can one play amaze and dazzle you yet repulse you at the same time?
This version of The Nether is the work of Falling Doors Theatre, a young yet talented group producing revamped classics and newer works, locally within Liverpool City Centre. Using local talented actors who may not yet be household names but are the stars of tomorrow. Directed by Sarah Van Parys who brings her experience of bigger stages to great use in this small intimate setting.
The characters and story unfolding before you, some will be clever enough to foresee what is happening, it is not necessary. You can just sit back and try to take in every little step, every poetic line. From the outset you feel you are pitted against good verses bad, characters you know you shouldn’t like, somehow draw you in and the further the play progresses you find depth and likeability.
The Nether is intelligent and you find humour in totally unexpected places. Some would say inappropriate. There’s charm and respect where you should if you listen to today’s society detest. It dissects a society format we all know and follow and leaves you asking many many questions of what you have witnessed and what you have in your short or long life been told to believe and behave. To retell the story in the means of reviewing would in my opinion ruin the whole illusion and spell cast by this wonderful play. It’s been simply and wonderfully produced by a small theatre company which shows you don’t need big bucks or lavish productions to entertain and they certainly managed that; just a simple set and simple costumes, your imagination can fill up the blanks. With a small cast of just five actors, there’s 90 minutes of lines and action to remember, well done all. I couldn’t choose a favourite, I loved and equally hated all the characters in one big messy loop.
Detective Morris (Catherine Devine) with her issues and drive to rid the world of reality shades. Questioning and interrogating Sims aka Papa (Lee Burnitt) He knows his urges are wicked and wrong (something you don’t expect to hear) We never actually see him carry out any wrong doing only what we hear from Inspector Morris. Papa the facilitator of The Hideaway his virtual domain where guests are entertained by a young girl of 12 named Iris (Kimberley Athawes). Papa is the manager, the solicitor allowing others to carry out their perverse acts and somehow live without their demons. Mixed in to this somewhat confusing unreality universe we have Doyle (Andrew AB) an elderly science professor, who is attempting to leave his body behind and call the Hideaway his home on a permanent basis. You wonder what he has been up to, this pathetic snivelling little man. Then there’s Woodnut (Grant Ryan Lenton) obviously an undercover police agent. Too squeaky clean in his appearance to do any wrong. But this is the strength of The Nether; to turn everything on it’s head and plonk it down as if you’ve been hit by an earthquake. You ask questions especially how can the police live under the protection the law offers, when it is one of their officers who has carried out deeply disturbing acts all in the name of information gathering. That is in itself shameful.
Ultimately we are left looking upon a scene of deeply disturbing distrust. In Sims own words how can they release him into the here and now and remove his online access, destroying The Hideaway. Knowing what he may do with his urges, for who knows where they may lead. The ending is a replay of an earlier scene that sees Papa and his (we assume) 12 year old daughter Iris, share a tender moment. As a parent you think nothing of a parent cuddling a child allowing them to rest their head upon your shoulder or lap. Yet here we have the reality a elderly man in Doyle resting his head upon Sims for comfort. The scene becomes twisted and distorted, so which reality is wrong?
The Nether does come with a warning regarding it’s content. It contains strong language and explores so called sensitive issues, abuse, sexual abuse, child abuse, self harm, suicide, violence and even murder and paedophilia. That’s a long list of warnings and it’s gut wrenching yet compelling and despite all those warnings this type of hard gritty drama makes theatre going such a wonderful experience.