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The Nether

IO Performance

May 19th, 2021

IO Performance are a company who, since their inception in 2017; have established a willingness to challenge the medium and audiences, pioneering the mainstream acceptance of edgy, risky and bold storytelling in Launceston. Unfortunately for myself, 2020’s season cancellation meant that I had to wait nearly two years to attend another IO show since Anatomy of a Suicide in 2019. As DARE Collective is an exponent of risk takers in our industry, I look forward to seeing more of the work that comes from IO in the future.

The subject matter in The Nether is undoubtedly some of the riskiest content seen in Launceston. The core of this play centres upon a universally prohibited taboo, Paedophilia, and the futuristic ambition of a self-imposed exile for these people. The play features the police investigation into two men, heavily involved in an online virtual reality where people anguished with these dark desires and fantasies; may inhabit candidly and achieve this horrible fascination without the consequences the real world presents.

Papa Sims, (Played by Chris Jackson), is the creator of “The Hideaway.” He constructs a strict policy to ensure that the users in the real world are all adult and anonymous but are given the freedom to take any form they want to inside the virtual realm.  From his point of view, no one is being harmed outside of the walls of his creation.

Leigh Oswin’s Mr Doyle is one of the users of Papa Sims’ hideaway; and it becomes clearer as the show progresses that he yearns for further adherence to the realm by crossing over, a process of logging into The Nether permanently. The Nether creates this wholly sensory world that he values more than what awaits him on the outside.

Quoting from one of my favourite film directors and personal role model, Lars Von Trier, he says: “Good art should be like a stone in your shoe.”

By this he declares that good art should make you feel comfortable in your uneasiness. It should provoke and prompt us to question our convictions and ethics; if not to change them, then to solidify them. Art isn’t a medium demanded to disregard real world issues simply for the pleasure of entertainment but should be utilised to grow and crystallize our morals in the face of the uncomfortable truth. The Nether is a script with bold and brazen ideas that interrogates our sensitivity and humanity.

Speaking to some members of the public after opening night, there were many differing opinions about the subject matter. For example, that Paedophilia is a subject that sits beyond the line of art taboo; that it has no place being discussed in any framework. I agree that this topic must be handled with awareness and delicacy, to not push an agenda, however The Nether is less about the act and instead illuminates human psychology. These unfavourables do exist in the world, so where do we draw the line within ourselves about what is truly harmful? Are we better off tolerating their abhorrent fancies inside a virtual realm we are blind too? Or is the cyber future we are hurtling toward make their presence there more dangerous than outside?  

Michael Mason’s direction was uncomplicated and confined, creating the atmospheric tension required of the interrogation room; however, I think it could have benefited from the implementation of levels, which would have added dynamic to the action. Underutilizing the upstage area, made sitting in the front row cramped and Hideaway scenes felt limited for what was possible. I personally would have found clever imaginings of the incriminating and uncomfortable hideaway moments to be an engaging and exciting endeavour. I sensed a tentativeness to the risk they were taking with the show, that there was a hesitance to push the envelope further.

Grace Roberts’ performance as Detective Morris was dependably solid, her steely, hard-nosed interrogator held the show together with a subdued ferocity. I would have enjoyed seeing further exploration with differing intentions between Doyle and Sims; more a good cop/bad cop than a bad cop/bad cop scenario.

Stephanie Francis I thought was the standout. She brought an infectious energy and heart to the character that really elevated the scenes she was involved in. She embodied the young, innocent mind of Iris from the moment she burst on stage. An adult actor presenting a child much younger runs the risk of perpetuating cliché’s, so Steph’s approach of naturally heightening her own energy and ramping up the pace of her mannerisms and speech patterns, are clever physical approaches to playing a younger character.

The set was minimal yet essential which was all that was needed. Taking advantage of the gorgeous natural architecture, the straightforward wire trees and the lightbox interrogation table emphasise and work within the confines of the area. It creates an austere and sterile backdrop for the interrogation room, which then widened when we moved into the Hideaway and gave us a tinge of Victorian era flair. The experimentation of creating an integrated experience between the performance and audience arrivals was ingeniously trialled by directing us to a secret location. I would love to see that aspect explored further in the future, as it is an engaging and exciting encounter that creates a sense of theatricality from the outset. I would be excited to see more theatrical engagement once entering this new space to maintain the anticipation until the show begins.

All in all, I’m delighted to see IO Performance taking risks and exploring stories and issues that others shy away from. They are a team of strong-minded artists, attentive to the social climate and immersed in the discussions of social change. Their theatre needs to be embraced and supported, because it serves as a means of important discussion for future generations.

Review by Matt Taylor

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