Left – Danielle Catanzariti and Kim Knuckey. Cover – Alec Snow. Photos – Ross Waldron
The internet as we know it has morphed into The Nether, a virtual playground similar to Second Life that demands almost as much attention as our own “real world”. Unfortunately, it has also inherited the dubious moralities of The Dark Web. No virtual retreat is more morally depraved than the Hideaway. This is a brothel where paedophiles go to live out their fantasies with virtual children. The tension is palpable as Mr Woodnut (Alec Snow) asks to touch young Iris (Danielle Catanzariti) on the nose.
Yet before we begin to look for the exit, playwright Jennifer Haley provides a masterclass in knowing how much an audience can take. The audience is distracted from its collective churning stomachs with more philosophical matters. Are our actions online, equivalent to real world actions and do they have real life consequences? Do our thoughts inevitably lead to actions, given that all actions start off as ideas in someone’s head?
We are also made to question our own morality. Why do we consider paedophilia the most taboo crime? Iris invites Mr Woodnut to “use the axe”, a compulsory practice for returning guests, presumably so they sever emotional ties to the girls when they sever their heads. We find ourselves breathing a perverse sigh of relief as the play moves on to the slightly more comfortable area of murder.
The story is framed as a police procedural. Sims (Kim Buckley) is questioned by Morris (Katie Fitchett) after being unmasked as Papa, the owner and architect of The Hideaway. Sims believes he is providing a safe way for paedophiles to satisfy their incurable urgers. Morris also needs the co-operation of Doyle (Alan Faulkner) an elderly gent who frequents the Hideaway, before she can charge Sims. Emotional involvement with the characters would make for a harrowing experience given the subject material. The cast do a solid job all round with appropriately restrained, emotionally distant performances.
The striking set design from Pip Runciman is also worth a mention. Screens hang from the ceiling, spewing forth computer code from a DOS like program. The Hideaway is portrayed as an angelic child’s bedroom, in the centre of the stage.
If you want to be challenged both morally and intellectually during a night at the theatre, you certainly will with The Nether. This is a well crafted play with considerable philosophical depth. The fact that there wasn’t a single walkout during the performance is testament to the playwright’s knowledge of how far to push an audience.
Catnip Productions presents
by Jennifer Haley
Directed by Justin Martin
Venue: Reginald Theatre | Seymour Centre, Corner of City Rd & Cleveland St, Chippendale NSW
Dates: 13 September – 7 October 2017
Tickets: $42 – $38