Theatre Interview: 'The Nether'

Emily Watton interviews the director, Ruaidhri Johnston, and members of his cast for the NUTS upcoming performance of 'The Nether'.

15th February 2016

This is a relatively recent play set within a futuristic dystopia where people connect their entire lives to a virtual reality called ‘The Nether’ that allows users to experience taste, smell and sex. The NUTS production operates on two time-lines:  the torrid fakery of ‘The Nether’ versus the intense seriousness of reality where Morris, the female detective, tries to unravel that virtual world.

   ‘The Nether’ is a futuristic internet that contains a ‘site’ called ‘the Hideaway’ where customers can have sex with virtual children. This controversial content stimulates some fascinating complexities about morality and the consequences of actions, even if no real children were involved.

Paedophilia is a highly controversial and uncomfortable topic to tackle which made still more unnerving by the possibility of simulated paedophilic situations being a possibility someday.            When reading the script both the female lead, Charlotte Wood, and the director, Ruaidhri Johnston, agreed how close this dystopian future is to our present day.  The producer, Luke Robson, the director, Ruaidhri Johnston, and the cast consider it best to face this taboo subject as it illustrates that the play about relationships and that actions lead to consequences, even if those actions are not perhaps literally child abuse.

   The director and cast seemed brave about, yet sensitive to, the topic at hand and ultimately showed their professionalism. This is particularly shown with the ‘Iris Problem’ where the original production had an actual nine year old girl play an avatar in the game where she undresses on stage. Obviously, with a NUTS production, the role must be played by an eighteen year old at the youngest but this offers casting problems that must consider a youthful appearance, a consistent talent and mature instinct to handle such a delicate role.

Rosie Bonner casually says her role is ‘simple’ as her role is to appear innocent and superficial as befitting a servile avatar, however, some scenes with ‘Hideaway’s creator Papa and Iris have caused the director and those watching to suddenly remember that she is a twelve year old character and shudder out a simultaneous ‘urgh!’  The disgust for the content causes some awkward moments but said content being handled to make the play as inoffensive as possible. Though they have resigned themselves to offending some, however, the aim is to provoke discussion and about the relationship between morality and legal legislation.

   The idea of showing contrasting settings of real life and a virtual brothel side by side on one stage has caused some logistical challenges for ‘The Nether’. Some aspects of the script the producer, Luke Robson, swears were deliberately put in to scupper amateur productions. However, ‘The Nether’ team have tackled some of these difficulties ingeniously. For instance, they have enlisted the help of Fine Art student, Petra Szeman, to create anime-style projections for three backdrop settings in ‘The Nether’. This draws a link between our internet experience and gives another layer to the façade created. Such details are rampant in this production, like the music designed just for it that sets the scene perfectly with Victorian nursery rhymes underscored with industrial sound.

   The creativity of the team is brilliant, and considering its short length of 90 minutes and status as an amateur stage production handling high-maintenance settings and content, they seem very competent and confident enough to provide a show worth thinking about.  A sci-fi dystopian thriller complicated by different realities and complex characters unusual to the genre, ‘The Nether’ seems to promise a disconcerting but riveting experience which makes you look twice at the ‘freedoms’ allowed by the internet today.

Details: Thursday 18th February 2016 – Saturday 20th February 2016.  Doors open at 7.45pm on Stage 2, Northern Stage, Newcastle Upon Tyne.

Concessions: £9/£6.

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