Trying to render the internet onto the stage has over the past few years, proven incredibly hard to do successfully. The sheer breadth of the internet, with all the many issues it raises, certainly offers theatre-makers plenty of fertile ground, but its vastness also often overwhelms them. Where these plays might be a fascinating chance to examine the human condition, more often than not, the topic can lend itself to lecture, diatribe, and a lack of drama. This is unfortunately the case with Darknet, currently playing at the Southwark Playhouse.
In this new collaboration, writer Rose Lewenstein and Director, Russell Bender have set out to explore the deep web – a heretofore untouched area of the internet in theatre, and an interesting one. Sadly however, the deep web features relatively little in this new play, which spends more time flitting between convoluted plotlines and spelling out the dangers of social media and sharing data online, something we are all well aware of.
Darknet is set in some kind of unclear dystopian future, where your presence on social media network, MyCloud, translates to everything from your credit rating to your income. We follow the story of Kyla (Ella McLoughlin) who enlists the help of Jamie (Jim English) to buy her methadone for her heroin addict mother played by Rosie Thomson. However, this storyline is thinly drawn, leaving the characters one dimensional and hard to sympathise with, shedding no real light on the workings of the dark web or what it means for, or says about, us.
In a second plot-line, Allen (Gyuri Sarossy) has appropriated an online dump of data, thanks to a virus, for his company, Octopus Inc’s own gain, and is slowly hunted down for it by the law. We also see Allen become attached to a cam-girl, Candy (Greer Dale-Foulkes) who is ultimately ousted on a game show which doxes individuals for fun. Here, again, we lose the opportunity for real human drama and the chance to question what is real and what is not on the online world. This gives way to trite characters, a script riddled with clichés, and very little action.
If Lewenstein’s script is meandering, undramatic and often unclear, Bender’s direction does little to help matters. There are attempts at Rupert Goold-style flash and suaveness, but few stand up, with the staging feeling fussy and at times, plain amateurish. The cast feel uncomfortable on stage, unable to truly sink their teeth into their roles, when so much of their task involves explaining to the audience how the world and the dark web works. Equally disappointing is how the women are represented: we have a woman who strips online for money, a mother so desperate for a score she gives her dealer oral sex and a schoolgirl who is nearly raped by that same dealer.
Darknet makes for unsatisfying watching, and just when you think it’s coming to an end, there’s another scene, and then another. It’s a shame that such a fascinating and fertile topic is so thinly unexplored. Here’s hoping theatre learns how to get to grips with the internet in the future.
Darknet is playing at the Southwark Playhouse until 7 May. For more information and tickets, see the Southwark Playhouse website.
Photo: Lidia Crisafulli