When consenting adults can put their imaginations together in virtual reality, what are the implications for morality and ethics? The Nether, a brilliant sci-fi crime drama, poses these questions and others through Jennifer Haley’s tightly written script. The production at Hamilton’s Theatre Aquarius is both spare and elegant; the cast and the creative team have excelled.
The story is set in the not so distant future where a coder extraordinaire has created a disturbing haven for consenting adults —The Hideaway. Safely hidden by deep coding, adults can act out their most disturbing fantasies on children. The audience does not see these enactments. They are implied, and that’s probably how this PG14 movie and theatre goer was able to stay in her seat for the entire show. Although I have to say that for much of it, I was on the figurative edge.
The play is a series of vignettes that alters between a sparse interrogation room and the lush space of The Hideaway. During the interrogation, a scrolling script details the charges as a detective from The Nether challenges two detainees (‘Papa’ the coder, and a site visitor) about the morality of their cyberspace activity. Their responses are evasive and disingenuous. Only the threat of never being able to login again evokes an emotion of fear. The Victorian styled Hideaway, by contrast, is warm and welcoming, and there are gentle familial style interactions between Papa and one of the children, Iris. Any feelings of this being a safe space are severed when a visitor is received by Papa, and then brought to Iris. The drama plays out in the imagination of the audience, as much as it does on the stage.
The Nether is a play that deserves a much larger audience than Hamilton can provide. It would play well at Off Mirvish which is why Toronto theatre-goers should plan to make the hour-long westward trek to see this superb production. The Nether is being performed at Theatre Aquarius, Hamilton, from October 26-November 12, 2016.
Bonnie Lendrum is the author of Autumn’s Grace, the story of how one family manages the experience of palliative care with hope and humor despite sibling conflicts, generational pulls and career demands.
Photos of Andrea Runge & Randy Hughson, and of Randy Hughson & Mary Maria Bourdeau are by Banko Media (http://theatreaquarius.org/onstage/the-nether/).