The Nether

“You track them like bloodhounds. Now you want to tell them what to do. Or rather, what not to do. What not to think. What not to feel.”

“You said it yourself – The Nether is becoming our contextual framework for being. If that happens, the same laws should apply”

I discovered The Nether by chance. A friend had a spare ticket and when I’m invited to a dystopian I say yes. Jennifer Haley has crafted a short, but deep play. And it feels very timely. In the UK there have been some high profile pedophilia cases. SOPA has made people question what we expect from a service like the internet. And as I write Facebook is having a crackdown on users with pseudonyms. All of this is fits and weaves into the fabric of the world created. All warranting more attention beyond the narrative.

The Nether, in the play, is a virtual reality environment that is used as commonly as the internet is today. People work in The Nether, people are taught in The Nether. What is real becomes an evermore subjective question. The play follows an investigation into the legitimacy of a realm known as The Hideaway. On the surface this is about pedophilia, but in a virtual world where everyone behind their avatar is an adult that stance is anachronistic. But the exploration into legitimacy, legality and intent leads to some very muddy waters.

The Nether offers no answers, but offers a multifaceted space to ask questions. If Sims actions are entirely legal should he be investigated in the first place? Or is there a moral duty to consider the implications of the grooming that may occur? How much power should a civil body have over the actions of the individual? What is the nature of identity divorced from your physical body? What is the value of agency and freedom within a controlled environment?

The Royal Court production compelled me enough to pick up the script. There are many ideas packed into this play of just over an hour’s length. This production really engaged me. It has made me want to look deeper.

And keep on questioning.


The Tiger Lillies Hamlet 20th September 2012

At The Southbank Centre

The Tiger Lillies are an esoteric band. It’s not often you find someone who makes blasphemy a major theme. However behind the inch thick makeup up and farce are some talented musicians. Only a passing knowledge of the band is enough to know that this wasn’t going to be a typical production.

Working with the Republique, it was an impressive production combining music, dance, theatre and cinema with excellent set design and choreography to make an interesting dream-like experience. Whilst remaining faithful, a very minimal approach to the original text was taken. The cast was stripped down to Hamlet, his family, Ophelia and her family. Dialogue was minimal. Most progression of the story took place in the form of soliloquies and the pairing of apt choreography and music.

The use of slow-motion and stripping the story down to its core emphasized the descent into madness. Without Horatio there are no other witnesses to the dead king’s ghost leading to Hamlet coming across unhinged from scene one. Without Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Hamlet rants to himself using the cast as puppets or figments of Hamlet’s imagination.

The climax of the play wouldn’t be complete with a string of deaths, and to this end the production does as expected. However, when you remove the minor characters and more than half of the remaining characters lie dead. It makes the characters personal ambition seem more futile.

Hamlet isn’t a play I know particularly well. I did have to make intuitive leaps as the play progressed due to the format being relatively abstract. However, there was a cohesive sense of atmosphere and degeneration. Leaving I did hear some mixed reactions including “once I got over it wasn’t what I expected”, which is fair. But it would be a shame if every production was typical and predictable. Prior knowledge needed is a legitimate complaint, but Hamlet is so ingrained in our culture my second hand cursory knowledge was enough to get me through. However, working with the style the did I think they did a fantastic job and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

The Virulent Experience

At Conway Hall

Foolish People is a banner under which a collection of artists create immersive art. The Virulent Experience is the first of their pieces that I’ve been aware of, and they will definitely remain on my radar.

What if you thought that mankind was broken? What if you thought you could fix it?

The year is 2040. Human emotion is safely controlled. Your candidacy is appreciated in bringing us into this new world. Your presence confirms your consent. Remember, you consent was given, even if you do not remember the fact.

What if the fix was flawed? What if you could give people freedom?

The Virulent Experience is an interactive theatre cum installation. Conway Hall was perfect for it, right down to the dank in the basement. I was unsure what to expect or even how to paraphrase their description. Now having been I am still having trouble describing what I have witnessed without spoilers. It was definitely an experience.

All other memories and experience prior to receipt of the Welcome Pack are suspect, and may be remnants of Induction implantation.

The Virulent Experience was like a guided tour meets the Stanford Prison Experiment. When there are four walls the only thing left to break is your brain. It was an immersive glimpse into a scenario which unfolded all around you. With the characters spread across a douzen rooms with colliding agendas and narratives.

The scenario unfolds three times of an evening with each conversation giving a glimpse into a greater whole. I found myself being more captivated and compelled to find out the details the more I probed. The rest of the evening had my friends and I discussion what we had witnessed and where our paths had diverged. I’m reminded of Mercury Fur in its singular continuation, except the stage is whichever room you choose to be in.

You are free from Bandwidth limitations. You may experience however and whatever you wish.

Having gone I have more questions than answers. There was a strong sense of narrative and purpose. There is only so much that can be witnessed in a single visit. I have witnessed what happens, but much of the why and how elude me. Yet, every step was with purpose.

This was a very polished production. My only disappointment is that I went towards the end of the run and I won’t have the chance to go again. Foolish People are definitely on my watch list now, and I look forward to what they have prepared for us next.

The Virulent Experience sadly ends this Friday, but I look forward to Strange Factories their first feature film. Its in post-production now and is slated for sometime next year.

John Cage’s Musicircus

by the English National Opera at the London Coliseum

3rd March 2012

When invited to an event that even the person inviting me doesn’t know what to expect what am I to do other than check my calendar and say ‘sure’. John Cage is not an artist I was familiar with and the event was something that I was unlikely to have discovered myself.

The ‘Happening’, as the program describes it, was a temporal, spacial and sensory collage. In short a collection of art, musical and visual performances. The event was spread across most of the building with about a douzen rooms and corridors filled with installations, musicians and performers. We wandered moving from complete bewilderment to a sense of comprehension picking up on threads and ideas as we went.

The performances ranged from choral and classical music through to abstract and surreal visual performances. There were orators reading various works, mime and other visual artists. There were props and pieces of art ranging from simple pictures to a monkey suspended from the ceiling.

The themes of mushrooms, time and chance were throughout. Each person’s experiences would differ as the performances were chosen at random (typically by dice) and as some of the performers moved about.

I was glad to have been invited and it was an impactful event. I may investigate Cage further. However, is what makes good art what makes a good experience? My interpretation of the work falls into the same category as mine of Andy Warhol; I like the ideas presented, but I am unsure of the art itself.

I would recommend the work to people who like their preconceptions and senses challenged, but personally I would have preferred a more interactive environment. You always felt like an observer. A couple of the artists involved the audience, but even this felt as if it was being done to you. Although chance was a large part of the concept I wonder if the event could have been improved with some form of narrative; something that increases its complexity when discussed with other attendees.

Perhaps the linear route we had to travel had something to do with it. You couldn’t really explore. Given the theme of chance, this was a major limitation. I do not know whether this was intended or due to the venue. An open plan exhibition centre with freer movement would have changed the nature of the interactions.

Regardless of niggles over the implementation I was glad to have gone. It was an interesting event and the concept will stick with me. How can the success of this show be measured other than to say that I definitely came of in a different state of mind than when I went in.