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Murky online paedo retreat: The Nether explores the fantasy-reality divide

The things that dreams are made of

Theatre Review On a bare stage, two chairs face each other across a table. At the table sits Morris, an investigating detective employed by The Nether – the virtual counterpart to the In-World – where users in the year 2050 can live out their every fantasy. Opposite sits her quarry, Sims, a businessman in his 60s who has been up to no good. His crime: he has created a virtual space, or “realm”, that breaks the rules.

The Nether: Detective Morris (right) confronts Sims (left) over his dodgy online presence.

Detective Morris (Amanda Hale) confronts Sims (Stanley Townsend) over his dodgy online presence
Photo © Johan Persson

There's nothing wrong with creating realms, since that's what The Nether is designed for. The successor to the internet, it's a totally immersive environment in which you can be whoever you like, and do whatever you like. Within reason. The problem is that Sims' realm seems to be taking the lack of accountability a step too far.

Known as The Hideaway, Sims' realm amounts to a beautifully rendered high class brothel in which patrons can take advantage of ten-year-old children. This, Morris declares, is too shocking even for stretched sensibilities of The Nether, and needs to be closed down.

Sims, however, mounts a robust defence of his realm: "The most important thing we offer here is the opportunity to live outside consequence."

Just as visitors to The Hideaway can assume any persona they like, so the children are themselves 'performed' by adults assuming childlike form. And since the end result is an act between consenting adults, what harm is being done?

The frenetic, self-consciously high tech animation projected onto the backdrop changes to depict a 3D model of a Victorian house being constructed, which then rises to reveal The Hideaway itself. It's a beautiful, entrancing space: an exotic room decorated with mounted deer head trophies and chandeliers, complete with flickering fireplace.

The 10-year-old Iris (Zoe Brough) loves the avuncular Poppa (Stanley Townsend) – but neither is what they seem

The 10-year-old Iris (Zoe Brough) loves the avuncular 'Poppa' – but neither is what they seem
Photo © Johan Persson

But the walls are replaced by an endless vista of real poplar trees, appearing to continue into infinity through the ingenious use of mirrored panels. Throughout its several variations, the depiction of The Hideaway remains magnificently, gloriously appealing.

We meet the diffident Woodnut, on his first visit to The Hideaway. After being welcomed by Sims – known within his realm as Poppa – he's then introduced to the 10-year-old Iris, who resides in her Victorian bedroom. Initially shy, Woodnut is uncertain how to proceed; it's up to the experienced Iris to help him to relax.

In a truly uncomfortable scene, we see the 10-year-old girl seducing the older man, who at first reluctantly and then willingly gives way to his secret desires.

Next page: A good hiding

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