Tag Archives: royal court

The Nether – Royal Court

Last night, I walked out of The Royal Court in dumbstruck silence.  

Presumably the same went for the others around me who just weren’t saying anything for a few minutes.  Then the buzzy chatter began – my head was fizzing with questions and trying to find my own answers to them.  Because paedophilia – and how to deal with it – is one of those tricky topics that causes a sharp intake of breath and for people to choose their words VERY carefully.  Yet The Nether simply presents a situation without ever telling you how to feel about it.  The benefit of this being a One Act play is that it allows plenty of time for discussion in the bar after – and there was a lot of that.

Ultimately, The Nether is set somewhere in the unspecified near future where people create an online identity and “indulge their every desire”.  While there are a few echoes of the virtual reality game Second Life, your actions online are policed and have ramifications in the real world; in this case, a virtual character having an unhealthy interest in virtual children.  It begs the difficult question of whether giving paedophiles a designated online space for their urges would help to protect real children, or whether it runs the risk of normalising (and possibly even condoning) their behaviour, thus putting real children in more danger.   

Animations by Luke Hall. Photo by Johan Persson.

We begin in an interrogation room: the uncomfortable task of playing Mr Sims/Papa falls to Stanley Townsend.  There is no apologising for who he is.  He is confident, arrogant and all his lines laced with the threat of what he might do in the real world if they rescind his login…. and what others like him might do if they delete The Hideaway, the realm he has created – its purpose completely at odds with its look of wholesome Edwardian charm.  I’ve seen some reviewers describe this play as ‘harrowing’.  (1984 was harrowing.  I would call this unsettling and sinister).  His interviewer is Morris (Amanda Hale) a woman who, while determined to exact the full force of the law, finds herself in a very tricky position, not least because of the complex dilemma of this particular case.

I know several who’ve felt very uneasy about the fact that there’s a child in the cast of The Nether – precociously played by Isabella Pappas.  But something in the back of my mind knew that the writer and director would have to draw some clear boundaries with what you can and cannot ask a child actor to do, especially in a play about paedophilia.  So we see the conversation beforehand and the impending child sex abuse is all implied (and then we conveniently switch back to the interrogation room right before anything is ‘required to happen by the script’ for want of a better term).  Also at the Hideaway is Woodnut (Ivanno Jeremiah), a guest who seems more interested in what goes on there than in participating.

Zoe Brough and Stanley Townsend. Photo by Luke Persson.

There is something quite interesting at the heart of this play in that it has become the norm for everyone to have an online presence in The Nether and that it also gives you the total freedom to be anyone you want to be.  So while Mr Sims finds his freedom in being an exact replica of himself, other characters have chosen to forge themselves a totally different identity.  Morris’ other interviewee is Doyle (David Beames), a man who seems thoroughly uncomfortable about admitting to how he spends his time at The Hideaway, not least because in the real world, he is a teacher and has a very real fear that his wife and students might find out ‘who he really is’.  A good thriller will give you a plausible set up, hook you in, intrigue you and throw in a few red herrings along the way.  It is right towards the end of the play that it dawns on us that Doyle is not an abuser, but a willing abusee.  

But the thing that stood out for me most about this play was the incredible set by Es Devlin.  Behind the interrogation room is a large screen filled with surveillance footage.  Every time we visit The Nether, this screen pixellates into the geometric shapes of the in-world characters (exquisite computer animations by Luke Hall), and then rises to a perfect realisation of that scene, right down to the synchronicity of Papa swinging Iris around the room.  The clever use of carefully angled mirrors and trees gives a kaleidoscopic effect that makes the backdrop look as though the forest outside goes on forever and ever.

David Beames and Stanley Townsend. Photo by Johan Persson.

This is a thought provoking play which asks a lot of very difficult questions about the internet and the implications of being yourself.  I’m not sure I can answer the questions raised, but the play doesn’t provide any answers either, and nor would I want it to.

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Let The Right One In – Apollo Theatre

I was sitting in a pub with friends when one of them suddenly announced that news was coming in that the ceiling had collapsed at the Apollo Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue during a performance of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. A horrible thought then as it is now. But after closing, undergoing stringent investigation and refurbishment, the Apollo is open for business. Judging by the full house at this evening’s performance, people aren’t worried about a repeat of that terrible night.

So there is something bittersweet in that the set designer has chosen to make a feature of the flat ceiling (hiding the renovation works) and painted it to resemble the night sky, as though you were looking up through the barren, leafless trees at the giant full moon which dominates the centre. The best view of this is definitely from the front row of the Grand Circle. It is stark, haunting and beautiful, perfectly complementing the cluster of tree trunks that occupy half of the snowdusted stage.

Based on the 2004 novel of the same title by John Ajvide Lindqvist, Let The Right One In tells the story of Oskar, a teenage boy being bullied at school. When Eli, a girl who is not all she seems, moves in next door, the two outcasts tentatively strike up an awkward friendship. There has been string of murders in the local woods and Oskar slowly discovers the disturbing truth; Eli is centuries old and requires a diet of blood to survive (although she’s uncomfortable with being labelled a vampire). If he pushes her away, she may kill him – if he lets her in, she may still kill him.  It had me absolutely spellbound from beginning to end.

Rebecca Benson creates a very fragile, wounded Eli. It’s never really explained how she came to be like this – just that she has been this way for a very long time. She visibly and vocally weakens as the withdrawl symptoms take hold and when she attacks, it is ferocious, visceral and animalistic – there is something reminiscent of the girl in The Exorcist in her jerky movements.  She abhors the fact that she has to kill to stay alive, but you get the impressions that living victims would be less cooperative about letting someone drink their blood.

The director has very much taken a ‘less is more’ approach to the attacks, in that we are only shown a select few, because horror is not just gore, it is psychological too. There is that satisfyingly tortuous lead up to each attack where, even though you know it’s coming any second now (…ok, any second now…), it still makes you jump out of your skin, then proceeds to be uncompromisingly graphic, violent and bloody.  If you are squeamish, perhaps this isn’t the show for you.

Martin Quinn and Rebecca Benson

Oskar (Martin Quinn) embodies all the embarrassment of puberty and someone who has had so little success in fitting in that he has given up trying. The scenes where he is victimised by the boys at school are deeply unsettling; in some cases, moreso than the attacks.  His guarded nature makes it a little difficult to warm to him straight away, but you could say the same for Eli and the barriers come down slowly as they feel compelled to protect one another.  There is real tenderness in their communication by Morse code when they cannot be together.

The two teenagers are backed up by a strong supporting cast who play a variety of roles and provide some wonderful movement pieces in the transitions between scenes (almost becoming scenes in their own right).  It becomes evident that Hakan (Clive Mendus) is Eli’s protector rather than her father – he may once have been a boy like Oskar who fell in love with her and has helped her ever since, but he has grown old while she remains trapped by youth.  He was not the first and Oskar won’t be the last.  Chilling and thought provoking, I suspect this play is going to trouble my thoughts for a good few days to come.

Let The Right One In is playing until 27th September 2014 at the Apollo Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London, W1D 7ES.  Suitable for ages 13 and up.  For tickets and more information, go to http://www.right-one-in.com/