Video projections have now become an integral part of many West End shows, with some using it effectively and a few, let's face it, using it as a desperate gimmick to liven up a dull plot. Sometimes I feel I might have been better off staying home and watching a dvd such is the often overuse of projections and video effects. Miss Saigon, Billy Elliot, Jersey Boys and We Will Rock You are all shows where the use of video has been seamlessly merged into the story without making people forget they are in a theatre and not actually in a cinema. You can't liven up a dud with a few jazzy effects. Remember: story story story.
With The Nether, however, comes a play that proves an absolute game changer when it comes to the use of video and possibly offers a vision of theatre in the future. Luke Halls' (he worked on Miss Saigon as well) stunning high definition video coupled with Es Devlin's equally stunning set design helps make Jennifer Haley's play a totally immersive and mind-bending assault on the senses and perfectly enhances and compliments the high-tech theme of the story. In no way does the design overshadow what is a stunning piece of theatre.
First performed at the Royal Court last year and now getting a well-deserved West End transfer courtesy of Sonia Friedman Productions, The Nether paints a disturbing picture of a future world where the internet has developed to such an extent that people can spend time in a fully functional virtual world; feeling, tasting and smelling all around them. They can live out all their fantasies and, most disturbingly of all, commit crimes without consequence.
Detective Morris (a superb Amanda Hale) questions Sims (Stanley Townsend) the owner of one of these virtual worlds which is seemingly an idyllic country house environment, but where children can be assaulted and murdered over and over again, always regenerating and ready for the next sick person to log on. But what if the disturbed individuals who use this resource didn't have it? Would taking it away only make them more likely to satisfy their perverted urges in the real world? It's a moral dilemma that Morris becomes more and more tormented by as she seeks to find and shut down Sims' server. But The Nether is a multi-layered work that is about so much more than this. Discussing the play with a friend afterwards we found that we had seen some things in a totally different way.
Throughout its relatively short, but taut and thoroughly gripping 80 minutes, director Jeremy Herrin's production twists and turns, shocking the audience with each new revelation like a kick to the stomach and offering a disturbing and sobering vision of a future that is closer than we think.
And with a more enjoyable virtual world in mind; how long before we don a pair of glasses in our front room and are transported to the Queen's for Les Miserables, The Globe for a Shakespeare or even Broadway for the latest hit? We might even be able to live out that sick fantasy we've all harboured for when someone's mobile phone goes off.
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