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 The TheatreguideLondon Review

The Nether
Royal Court Theatre Summer 2014; Duke of York's Theatre Spring 2015

In her new play, premiered in Los Angeles last year, Jennifer Haley posits a dystopian near future in which online role-playing games have advanced to near-Matrix immersion and there are realms to fulfil any fantasy, even the most depraved or criminal. 

The operator and a client of a site for paedophiles are being interrogated by a detective, and argue that by acting out their impulses in a fantasy setting they are freed from any impulse to do it in the real world. Even as she partially accepts that argument, the cop insists that the role playing is damaging to the mind and soul, and must be shut down. 

And as the scene shifts to the virtual world the avatars, both perpetrator and victim, do become uneasy in their roles as they discover that there is no such thing, even in fantasy, as action without consequence. 

There are a couple of surprises, as it is revealed who in the real world corresponds with which role in the fantasy, and though you are likely to guess them long in advance, that won't spoil anything. Indeed, it enriches the performances of the actors as we realise that each is playing aspects of the corresponding character as well as their own. 

This co-production between the Royal Court and the tech-savvy Headlong is ultimately more thought-provoking than emotionally involving, but it does hold you through the 90-minute play and is likely to leave you with questions about things you came in thinking were unquestionable not about the immorality of paedophilia, which is not challenged, but about the value and healthiness of fantasies of any sort. 

An impressive set by Es Devlin and even more impressive computer graphics by Luke Halls carry us seamlessly and convincingly between the two worlds of the play.

Sensitively directed by Jeremy Herrin, the evening is carried by strong performances by David Beames, Amanda Hale, Ivanno Jeremiah and Stanley Townsend, and a truly remarkable one by young Zoe Brough.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - The Nether - Royal Court Theatre 2014  
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