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Review: Uncomfortable viewing - The Nether, Royal Court

David Beames (Doyle) and Stanley Townsend (Sims) in The Nether, Royal Court

I'm not sure I could give The Nether a second viewing. I say that not because it is bad, far from it, it is dazzlingly staged and one of the most thought provoking plays I've seen for a while, it is just very uncomfortable to watch.

The Nether of Jennifer Haley's play is a virtual world of total sensory immersion where humans are choosing to spend more and more of their time. There are 'realms' for all aspects of life and in The Nether you get to be whoever you want.

It is part detective story, part examination of the morality of modern society in a virtual world. Morris (Amanda Hale), a detective, discovers a realm called The Hideaway that offers a disturbing brand of entertainment and sets about unearthing who is behind the virtual characters and where the servers are. And this is where it gets uncomfortable because this particular brand of entertainment involves children.

The scenes switch from Hales interrogation room, which is plain aside from the back wall made up entirely from a screen, to scenes from within The Hideaway. The transition is cleverly done utilising the screen which then rises to reveal a completely new set behind that looks like it is floating in a forest, mirrors reflecting the images to give it depth and scope.

In the Hideaway we meet Iris (Isabella Pappas) who is one of the children 'living' there. The context of the story corrupts the most innocent touch or game played between Iris and the adults. It is disturbing to watch.

The Nether raises many questions. Does morality have the same cache in a virtual world when, arguably no one is getting hurt? Does it distort or aid behaviour in the real world? Where does the real person and their emotional responses end and the virtual person's begin and can the two be truly exclusive?

Aside from the wow factor of the staging, the stirring of the grey matter and the emotive response the performances too are superb. Pappas - who shares the role - gave an assured and nuanced performance in what is a substantial part for someone so young.

The Nether is a play that will linger and be debated. It is truly a play for the modern world. Catch it at the Royal Court Theatre downstairs until Aug 9.


Amanda Hale was in Bright Star and Stanley Townsend who plays Sims has been directed on stage by Sam Mendes who directed Mr W in Skyfall. (Sam Mendes also exec produced Richard II)