Blog: Controversial subjects and big questions

Blog: Controversial subjects and big questions

Friday, 15 August 2014

Stacey Permaul blogs on Headlong's The Nether and Oliver Cotton's new play Daytona in this blog.

This may not be to everyone’s taste, but for me, Headlong are really paving the way for provocative and controversial work. Yes please Headlong, do tour and do collaborate again with the Royal Court; The Nether, a new play by Jennifer Haley, was not only exquisite to look at, with a stunning set by Es Devlin, but also tackled an extremely complex and disturbing subject which even got me questioning my ethics by the end.

The Nether, directed by Jeremy Herrin, The Royal Court Theatre

With the current witchhunt blazoned across every newspaper, as a child of the 80s, it is becoming ever more disturbing to discover my ‘heroes’ were actually harbouring an unhealthy appetite for children. The truth is, paedophiles are everywhere. It is not a new thing for a man to desire a young child, this has been happening through all of man’s history. The question The Nether brings up is, can we satiate this unhealthy appetite in a controlled and ‘safe’ environment? In the 'nether' (a super advanced version of today's internet), there is a hidden realm where anybody can enter, pay for time with a virtual child and then leave satisfies. No questions, no consequences, no guilt. However, in a virtual world where technology has created such momentous advances to make the user think, feel, touch, smell and even taste the imaginary world around them, is this really the controlled environment they think it is? Is molesting a child in virtual reality any less of a crime than in the real world?

I would take Haley's arguments more seriously, however, if she did not seek to shock us with the threat of present danger
- Michael Billington, the Guardian

Jennifer Haley (left) certainly does go out of her way to shock her audiences. There were many awkward moments when I was concerned that I may witness something rather vile and disgusting. However, after having also seen 1984 recently, I understand that this is another testament to the fearlessness and bold nature of Headlong.

With mixed reviews, it is clear that The Nether cannot be all things to all men. It is bold, it is uncomfortable and it is deeply disturbing, which, for me, is everything I can ever ask from a piece of new writing. I want to leave at the end of a production feeling changed, affected or provoked…this didn’t disappoint.


At the play's end, the world – both real and virtual – simply doesn't look quite the same
- Laura Barnett, the Observer

Another play tackling a controversial subject is Daytona, a new play by Oliver Cotton playing at my darling Theatre Royal, Haymarket.

Maureen Lipman and Harry Shearer in Oliver Cotton's new play Daytona

With a completely opposite approach to The Nether, Daytona was an incredibly slow burner. So much so that I was not entirely convinced of staying on for the second half. However, I am very glad I did as the energy, pace and drama kicked us all in the face in the second half where actors Maureen Lipman and Oliver Cotton succeeded in that rarity, keeping the audience gripped with a 40 minute two-hander scene. This was more a testament to the great acting of Lipman than the writing of Cotton, which I found to be far too expositional and clunky at times.

It’s a gripping story, powerfully told. But the play also explores the relationship between the three characters, which proves more complex than it initially seems
- Charles Spencer, the Telegraph

Again, I liked the question this play threw up: if a Holocaust survivor encounters an ex-Nazi, is it justified for them to shoot them openly to rid the world of such evil? After all, as Cotton’s character explained, didn’t the Nazis openly shoot the Jews in the concentration camp? Why should he be sent to death row for a mercy killing?

Not quite the strong punch in the gut as The Nether, but nevertheless, Daytona has a potent message for today, what with all the current war atrocities happening in Gaza and Iraq. Who knows what psychological legacies these wars will leave in our future society? It was also refreshing to see a new play where all the characters were in their 70’s, after all, theatre isn’t just a young mans game.

Seeing all the exciting theatre that London has to offer is getting me very excited for the touring production of Regeneration which previews in Northampton Royal and Derngate on 29 August 2014.