“Confused people may need some help”
I’m pretty sure that somebody has already reached this blog before by googling “sexy Peter Pan takes a load in the face” – such is the way that these search algorithms work (don’t talk to me about how my search results were skewed by seeing a play called Reclining N*de With Black St*ckings) – so there’s at least one person who will be inordinately excited by the anarchic spirit that rules the first half of Tim Price’s Teh Internet is Serious Business, directed with some astonishing brio by Hamish Pirie.
A fictionalised story, albeit inspired by events that happened to the members of hacker groups like Lulzsec and Anonymous, the show’s real strength comes from the playfully imaginative ways in which the online world is represented. There’s not a screen or a graphic to be found anywhere; instead, the company take on multiple roles, playing websites, online avatars and memes as well as giving us glimpses of the IRL personae involved too, the real people in front of the computer screens.
Chloe Lamford’s design facilitates this brilliantly – trapdoors allow websites to pop-up, sidedoors open up like windows to let coding be explained through the medium of interpretative dance, and a brightly coloured ball pool serves as that strange end of the internet from whence so much random crap expounds. It’s a dizzying array for which a glossary is usefully provided with the castsheet and if some of the detail will be lost on many of us, the roller-coaster exuberance of the theatrical language is significant recompense.
Ultimately, too much is forced in here though, meaning the flabbiness of the running time is scarcely justified. And perversely, as the play moves from the freewheeling fun of hacking into any and every site they want (Scientology, Westboro Baptist Church, and the CIA are amongst their victims) to more of a thriller as the authorities start to close in on the group, one can’t help but long for a little more examining depth.
The casualness with which the hackers equally treat the personal data of regular people with their more prominent targets hints at the abdication of responsibility that the anonymity of the internet can engender, the impact of online activity on real life activity (leading to one of the show’s best gags about McFlurrys and Egypt) is only just touched on (and would have partnered nicely with the Royal Court’s last main stage show The Nether). Even a final shocking betrayal doesn’t quite possess the power it ought to wield.
But the energy that courses through the cast and company, and indeed the Royal Court as a whole, is genuinely thrilling. Across the company of 15, Eileen Walsh, Sargon Yelda and Ferdinand Kingsley all stand out in their multi-rolling, whilst Kevin Guthrie and Hamza Jeetooa both impress as the story’s main leads, teenage misfits both, who mask their IRL difficulties with extraordinary online personalities. There’s lots of fun to be had here but underneath it all, the daring, fruitful shaking up of a venerable institution is serious business indeed.