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The Nether

Published 25 July 2014

What’s it all about?

As the findings of Operation Yewtree continue to hit the headlines, the Royal Court’s latest production tackles the unthinkable subject of child abuse. Flitting between scenes taking place in the real world and those occurring in the disquieting digital realm of its title, Jennifer Haley’s play raises questions about online safety and conjures nightmares about what the Internet could become.

The action centres on a man named Mr Sims who, in the Nether, lives and runs an idyllic sanctuary where people can visit and spend time with a young girl called Iris. In the real world, Mr Sims is being questioned by detectives about his conduct in his online playground, the Hideaway. While his virtual refuge is a picture of beauty, it is a haven full of possibilities but devoid of consequences for child abusers who can access it and satisfy their every pleasure simply by logging in.

Who’s in it?

Stanley Townsend makes for a sinister Mr Sims whose name is no doubt a reference to the popular video game in which individuals can simulate a fictional life for themselves. Amanda Hale is assertive and believable as a determined detective and David Beames oozes vulnerability and pain in the role of Doyle. But at the centre of this play is a performance by a young girl – on this occasion Zoe Brough – that gives the play its unbearably haunting edge. Seductive in her interactions with the Hideaway guests, her actions and dialogue mimic those of a woman trapped inside a child’s body. While the scenes themselves are unsettling, the thought of the young performer portraying such a character only adds to the production’s soaring levels of disturbance.

What should I look out for?

Stunning designs in the form of Es Devlin’s set and Luke Halls’ video projections, the beauty of which only makes the story more unsettling; comedy, not least in the line “Don’t tell me you’ve never f**ked an elf?” and an axe, the repeated and encouraged use of which doesn’t even bear thinking about.

In a nutshell?

Squirm, wince and want to run for the exit, The Nether is distressing and astounding in equal measure.

What’s being said on Twitter?

@jackthorne#TheNether at the @royalcourt is thoroughly beguiling and terrifying, I felt very aware of my every body move as I watched. I felt watched.

@smallangry It’s impossible to describe all of the emotions that #TheNether put in me. Nevertheless: I’m still shaking. Extraordinary. @HeadlongTheatre

Will I like it?

Forget horror movies, torture scenes or vivid depictions of gore, at times The Nether is the very epitome of uncomfortable watching. While certain points in Jeremy Herrin’s production are almost impossible to endure, the reward is a mind-blowing 80 minutes of theatre that maintains Headlong’s reputation for being at the very forefront of cutting edge theatre. If you think you can bear it, book now, as it’s only playing a short run.

The Nether is playing until 9 August. You can book tickets through the Royal Court website.

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