Review: Jennifer Haley’s The Nether, presented by Headlong, at the Royal Court Theatre Downstairs

Amanda Hale as Morris and Stanley Townsend as Sims. Photo Johan Persson

Amanda Hale as Morris and Stanley Townsend as Sims. Photo Johan Persson

– Don’t you feel pain?
– Only as much as I want to.
– And how much pain is that?
– That’s rather personal, don’t you think?

Words that are brazen, suspicious, suggestive. Even worse, this is the conversation between an adult and a child. Even worse, this is not quite true.

Jennifer Haley’s play assumes a world where we can go to hide. It’s The Nether and it’s virtual but other than that, each character defines it in a different way. No consequences, no pain, no sense of time, no limitations. These are the lies people tell to each other. The closest the virtual world imitates the physical one, the less escapism it offers. Isn’t that weird?

The play will be discussed as a play about pedophilia, but this is far too obvious an approach. It’s mostly about intimacy, and whether it can be achieved without moral choices and consequences. The characters try to evade reality and then demand it as a token from each other. Continue reading

Review: Chimerica by Lucy Kirkwood, at the Almeida theatre (a Headlong co-production)

Photo Jeff Widener / AP / Press Association Images

Photo Jeff Widener / AP / Press Association Images

From Wikipedia: Chimerica is a neologism coined by Niall Ferguson and Moritz Schularick describing the symbiotic relationship between China and the United States. In truth, Lucy Kirkwood’s new play, ambitious, incisive and complex, has much in common with the legendary chimera, a creature made with parts from various animals. The play, similarly, wants to be many things (political, character driven, suspenseful, probing the big picture and the tiny details) and in a wondrous deeply moving way it succeeds.

The play spans three decades, starting at a hotel off Tiananmen square in 1989. Three characters take centre stage: an american journalist, a chinese teacher, an english marketing researcher. Colleagues, bosses, relatives, acquaintances, politicians, the authorities swarm around them. At the heart of it a quest,  with press freedom, people’s souls and safety at stake. In fact, this is a story where the stakes are always high: whether it’s friendship, love, morals, livelihoods, nothing is trivialised. There are no perfect choices. Holding onto the moral high ground becomes a sin in its own right. Continue reading

Review: The Effect by Lucy Prebble, at the National Theatre

In all the best productions there is always a moment when I, in the audience, feel this is the best place in the world to be. In The Effect, the new play by Lucy Prebble as directed by Rupert Goold, that moment came half way through the first part when, in a surprising turn, Jonjo O’ Neil displays some unexpected talents. For a play grappling with serious and fascinating questions, this was a moment of uncomplicated bliss.

But can I trust this feeling? If my feelings can be traced to and manipulated by chemical changes, are they mine? Does it matter? The four characters in the Effect struggle with these questions with various degrees of passion, desperation and urgency. At the same time, life relentlessly moves forward without waiting for the answers. Things happen faster than people can process. And Lucy Prebble’s play, sparkling with humour, wit, ideas and warmth, finds a way to capture the emotional and physical bewilderment and joy as well as the scientific questions. This is science sitting squarely in the middle of everyday life as it should be.

It’s hard to find enough words to praise the performances: Continue reading