It’s one of the most provocative plays to arrive on Australian stages for some time.
This week, the Australian premiere season of Jennifer Haley’s The Nether has kicked off at Sydney’s Seymour Centre, where it will run until October 7.
The Nether has been described as the theatrical equivalent of Netflix’s Black Mirror or HBO’s Westworld. Examining the dark side of the internet, Haley’s play brings to the forefront the complicated minefield of morality and identity in the digital world, and explores the consequences of turning dreams into a reality.
Staged by Catnip Productions, The Nether features a cast including Kim Knuckey, Katie Fitchett, Alan Faulkner, Alec Snow and Danielle Catanzariti. At the helm of the production is award-winning director Justin Martin, whose credits include Netflix’s The Crown, and the West End productions of An Audience, Billy Elliot and Skylight.
Martin first saw the play on The West End.
“I was deeply moved, engaged and provoked all at the same time,” he tells Theatre People. “It is the most successful play I’ve seen to tackle the moral complexities of the contradictions inherent in our future in the online world.”
Martin talks about why he became interested in directing the piece.
“I’m always interested in plays which seem to plug into a national conversation we either are having or should be having. Questions of how we find a legal framework for the internet; what reach should government have into the virtual space in terms of censorship and monitoring; and what are the inherent moral complications in having lives and personas online as well as in-world, are all explored.”
Since its world premiere, The Nether has received a number of accolades, including a nomination for the 2015 Olivier Award for ‘Best Play’. So, what is it about the piece that has prompted such a strongly positive response?
“I think the construction of the play itself is beautifully realised in the script,” Martin says. “It balances a crime drama with intersecting love stories and a central moral question about how we live in the imminent age of virtual and internet reality. The cross section of these narratives come together in such a way that an audience is engaged and challenged all at the same time.”
As to why 2017 is the right time to bring a production of The Nether to Australian audiences, Martin says: “This year has seen the first review of our Government’s controversial metadata collection laws, which have allowed unprecedented access to information surrounding everyone’s online usage. In that review discussions were opened about the use of such data beyond criminal cases and into divorce or civil claims.
“[This year] has also seen the emergence of a number of Australian companies who are leading the world in fully interactive virtual reality. As our lives transition more into the online sphere through social media and the internet there are inherent legal, ethical and moral conversations which need to be addressed. This play is a shot in the arm of that conversation.”
Martin thinks the biggest challenge he’s faced in staging The Nether has been trying to find a stage language for the internet.
“Theatre, like film and TV, is still finding its feet in how to portray and respond to the internet as an integral part of our lives,” he explains. “The internet by its nature is expansive, whereas a theatre has four walls. Our design team has discussed at length the contradiction and tried to find a language that allows for what theatre does best – the room for the audience’s imagination to be expansive beyond the physical realities of the space.”
And who does he think should come along and see this production?
“The play is for anybody whose life is engaged with the internet and the technology of today.”
THE NETHER – SEASON DETAILS
DATES: Playing now until October 7
TIMES: Tue to Sat 7:30pm + Matinees at 2pm on Sat 30th Sept and Sat 7th October
BOOKINGS: www.seymourcentre.com/events/event/the-nether/ or (02) 9351 7940
TICKETS: Adults $42 / Concession $38