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Putting the internet on stage

Making theatre out of the digital world can be difficult, but “The Nether” pulls it off

Isabel Lloyd | January/February 2015

Tim Price’s recent premiere at the Royal Court in London, “Teh Internet is a Serious Business”, may have been an irritating misfire but, spelling aside, the title at least was spot-on. Any playwright who knows their apps from their elbow wants and needs to engage with the digital world. The best (Caryl Churchill in “Love and Information”, Enda Walsh in “Chatroom”) have already proved that the way we engage with the internet and social media isn’t difficult to write about. It’s the staging that’s the issue. How do you find convincing ways to squash something so boundless inside the deadening frame of the proscenium arch?

“Teh…” didn’t pull it off. A hyperspeed retelling of the Anony­mous story, it was both too literal (the Grumpy Cat meme embodied by, yes, an actor dressed as a cat) and too abstract, with real world and online action both happening in the same, featureless space. When “The Nether”, by the American writer Jennifer Haley, played in the same theatre two months earlier, there was a world of difference. Haley is a writer who concentrates almost exclusively on stories about the internet, and her immersion showed: “The Nether” is a deft handling of a morally unsettling subject, as well as being a tightly structured psychological thriller. And it was well served by Es Devlin’s set, which managed to make beautifully concrete both the flat-screen banality of our first engagements with a computer, and the hall-of-mirrors hinterland to come, using video projections to move seamlessly between both worlds. The production, with its excellent original cast, is about to transfer to the West End; as yet, there hasn’t been a better example of the virtual getting real. ~ Isabel Lloyd

The Nether Duke of York’s, London, Jan 30th to April 25th


THEATRE AT A GLANCE

Fish in the Dark (Cort, New York, Feb 2nd to June 7th). Larry David’s first appearance in a play “since the eighth grade” also marks his Broadway debut as a writer. The plot is about a death in the family: one for those who fondly remember an entire episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” revolving around an obituary mis-spelling of “beloved aunt” (you can guess which letter suffered).

The Hard Problem (Dorfman, London, to Apr 16th). A new Stoppard? That’s the definition of event theatre. Nicholas Hytner directs, in his last, loud hurrah at the National. See Notes on a Voice.

Antigone (Grand Théâtre, Luxembourg, Feb 25th-28th, then touring). Ivo van Hove caused a stir in London recently with an outstanding, minimalist “View from the Bridge”. He casts Juliette Binoche, a potentially ideal blend of delicacy and strength, as the daughter who dares to defy not just her father, but a whole city.

The Fever (May Fair Hotel, London, to Feb 7th). Literally a chamber piece, this 90-minute monologue written by the donut-faced American actor-writer Wallace Shawn was designed to be performed in a living room. Tobias Menzies delivers a particularly timely moral fable to audiences of 28 in an upmarket London hotel suite—a setting with a purpose. 

The Ruling Class (Trafalgar, London, to April 11th). Jamie Lloyd’s previous revival of a little-played mid-century satire—Pinter’s “The Hothouse”—was a treat. Now he treads a similar path with Peter Barnes’s career launcher from 1968. The lead is James McAvoy, two parts charisma to one part biceps.

Game (Almeida, London, Feb 23rd to Apr 4th). The writer of “King Charles III”—Mike Bartlett, already something of a star at 34—veers to the other end of the social spectrum: young families who can’t afford a home of their own. But here too he looks at what it means to be watched all the time. ~ IL

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