Theatre in Wales

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Virtue in Virtual reality?

At Company of Sirens

Company of Sirens/good cop bad cop- The Nether , Chapter , March 22, 2017
At Company of Sirens by Company of Sirens/good cop bad cop- The Nether The programme tells us we are observing human behavior some time ‘SOON’. The Nether is an advanced development of the Internet. Into this cyber space we find a moneymaking success, The Hideaway. It seems to have been developed by Doyle, a middle-aged science teacher but is under the control of Sims, a successful businessman.

This startling and troubling play comes from the pen of Jennifer Hayley, now working in Los Angeles, originally from Texas. The Nether opened at the Center Theatre Group LA in 2013 in New York and at The Royal Court in 2014 then transferring to the Duke of York Theatre. In America the play received the Susan Smith Blackburn Award; here the play received an Olivier Award in 2015.

Maybe these were awards for ‘bravery’; it is certainly a very well crafted drama. Company of Siren’s Artistic Director Chris Durnall has never been one to shirk from strong work. Recent productions include Anthony Neilson’s Stitching and Mercury Fur In May by Phillip Ridley. His direction in this sparse set shows a delicate and sensitive hand allowing the silent gaps between every one of the scenes of the narrative to be equally as persuasive and atmospheric as the story itself.

Sims, often referred to as Papa. His daughter, who he proclaims he loves dearly, is the ‘catch’ within his other world. With the essential help of Doyle, he has created a well-paying paedophilic playground. He seems proud of his perversity and of his virtual creation maintaining it prevents him from indulging his fantasies in the real world. John Rowley is so frighteningly convincing in this role but despite his logic and his charm he remains despicable.

But his adversary is having nothing of this. A young female detective, Morris is determined this virtual perversity is equally as illegal and punishable as the real thing. This is the question at the heart of the play and we all have to arrive at our own conclusions. Morris, played with a cool determination by the wonderful Stacey Daly, has no doubts about the illegality of these dreadful carryings on. Daly has worked regularly with the Company of Sirens over a number of years and it has been a joy to see her grow into the sophisticated actor who now has little time for Sims’ persuasive arguments.

The other cop, never been sure which one was which, Richard Huw Morgan as Woodnut, a first time client, stumbles with nervous hesitation at the angelic ‘come ons’ from the much loved daughter Iris. Another perfectly judged performance from Non Haf. Huw Morgan’s awkwardness, we later learn hides the fact that he is an agent working on behalf of Morris. Papa and Iris interact with a sickening intimacy. He persuades Woodnut to go one step further with Iris and persuades him to raise an axe over her head. No problem, a new virtual Iris can be quickly recreated!

Up ‘til now the unity of the perverse logic has held but now things go awry. Doyle and Morris swap thoughts reflecting the tension between her and Sims. Now within minutes of the ending of the play she loses it, declares that she loves Doyle. Then we learn that Sims has virtualized Dolye into Iris!

In his final exchange with Sims, Durnall’s Doyle confirms this by talking in Iris’ voice. Here the director shows us that the acting abilities that have been on the shelf for quite awhile have by no means deserted him.

This no hold barred, very successful work of theatre art worried my brain as I walked the dark streets home.

Reviewed by: Michael Kelligan

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