BWW Review: DARKNET, Southwark Playhouse, April 18 2016

I guess most theatre seats are sold over the internet these days - though the www is usually a nonono for dramatists - as are mobile phones, when an interval usually reveals that the only people in the house without them are the characters on stage.

So Darknet (continuing at Southwark Playhouse until 7 May) must be commended for its embrace of the 21st century's two technological ever-presents - but can it be commended for its drama?

Octopus, a global tech company, has developed a market in data based on the volume and quality of every individual's sharing, which generates their Octoscore, a kind of all-encompassing credit rating. It's a promising basis for a plausible dystopian work in the |Ballardian style.

Unfortunately, writer Rose Lewenstein and director Russell Bender rather waste this foundation by packing in so much stuff that the original premise gets lost in subplots concerning illicit drug dealing online, web security, phildickian replicant receptionists, real sex workers and much, much more. On stage, there are lots of door frames moved about and stepped through, which I thought a good joke about the web's absence of effective gatekeeping, but, two and a half hours in, that metaphor was falling a bit flat. Perhaps it's an irony that a play that has much to say about hacking would benefit from a few cuts of its own!

If they're the downsides, the upsides are found in some fine performances and a few moments of biting satire. The slow burn romance between teens, bullied Kyla (the excellent Ella McLoughlin) and paranoid Jamie (a glowering Jim English) is well done, the show getting a lift whenever it returned to their fumbling for the right words to express what they felt. Gyuri Sarossy's Allen is very good taking questions at a product launch, like a 21st century Steve Jobs, all smug self-assuredness that slowly crumbles. The rest of the ensemble effect some very quick changes as they play the host of other characters required to keep the sub-plots bubbling. There's some decent visuals too - never easy to get right operating on a tight budget.

With some vicious cuts, Darknet would work well as a one-hour TV drama, but as a play stretched to well over two hours, its focus shifts too often for us to fully engage with one set of characters and ideas before we're presented with another. It's as if the YouTube sidebar thumbnails jump across into each clip before it's finished.

Photo Lidia Crisafulli

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From This Author Gary Naylor

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