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A CurtainUp London Review
The Nether is the name for what used to be called the Internet. People who spend most of their time in The Nether are called shades. Detective Morris wants to know where Sims keeps his server on which he runs a realm called The Hideaway.
The interviews take place against a screen in black and white of moving but fractured images, an eye in close up, other images we cannot quite make out. In the second scene Morris (David Beames), a teacher nearing retirement, is being interviewed by detective Morris about The Hideaway. He co-operates until he asks whether he can keep Iris and the interviewer says not.
There is a design coup from Es Devlin: set behind a beautiful leafy glass frame is The Hideaway, a spacious Victorian house where men or guests pay to visit. Iris (Zoe Brough) is the star attraction, a seductive and appealing little girl with blonde ringlets who entertains and flirts with the visitors. Sims is called Papa by Iris. Sims defends his business to the detective by saying that his actions are "without consequence".
We are both chilled and fascinated by Iris but when, with Mr Woodnut (Ivanno Jeremiah), she starts to remove her clothes down to her Victorian corsetry, we are shocked. I won't reveal any more of the plot but highly recommend this controversial and uncomfortable play in a brilliant production from the Royal Court and Headlong.
The performances are nothing short of mesmerising. Stanley Townsend is convincing and plausible in the way that we know child molesters have lured victims and covered their actions with relatives of the children. He is also an attractive personality with a rich deep voice which brings out in us feelings of conflict as we despise his activities. The big question of The Nether is whether virtual activity is harmless. Does it protect society from paedophilia or does it convert more people to experiment "in-world" with devastating consequences?
Amanda Hale keeps her interrogation cool and there is good support from David Beames as the cornered Doyle and Ivanno Jeremiah as new guest Woodnut. Zoe Brough's Iris is perfect, playful, flirtatious and scary. Jeremy Herrin's surefooted direction brings clarity to the issues in the best play I have seen dealing with this difficult taboo. Do not miss this important production with its seductive set.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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