“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
In Jennifer Haley’s The Nether, furtive characters in a bleak, futuristic world log onto a virtual reality realm called The Hideaway. There, in a sunlit Victorian home where the porch step squeaks and the leaves of the surrounding trees rustle in the wind, where a convivial host welcomes them and impeccably dressed young children sit on the front porch waiting for their guests, they are able to act out their most perverted desires. The Hideaway is so well designed that everything in it looks and sounds and feels and smells and tastes real, perhaps better than real. Even more compelling, the genius who designed it has deliberately given it no moral framework. It’s a world in which their perverse actions have no consequences. After all, it’s only images; no one gets hurt. Where’s the harm?
“People should be free in their own imagination!” argues the designer. “There is a line, even in our imagination,” responds his accuser. Who are the people logging into The Hideaway, what is it that allows them to cross that line and what are the consequences for their real lives when they do? The Hideaway is a paradox: an artificial construct where they can be who they really are. As they explore its appalling possibilities, are they also searching for some kind of real human connection?
Rehearsing The Nether with this amazing cast, so willing to explore the difficult, painful subjects it presents, opened up more questions than answers. I hope we answer some of yours; but I hope that we provoke many more. Because this chilling ‘futuristic’ tale feels like something just around the corner and there are urgent ethical decisions to be made. This is where we are now. Where on earth do we go from here?
Jenny Hollingworth, director.