The Nether, a frighteningly relevant play that asks more questions than it answers, takes place in two domains: the real world and a boundless digital world made up of different virtual realms, called The Nether. The story follows a young detective named Morris, who is tasked with investigating a mysterious place called The Hideaway and its unforthcoming owner, Mr. Sims. What follows is a foray into moral ambiguity, complex characters, and the nature of guilt.
The set design by Ed Lacson Jr. consists of a Victorian Gothic-era home with a stone staircase, gargoyles, and other old-world paraphernalia mixed with the two simplistic, overhanging ‘terminals’ above interrogation rooms. The home is resplendent, and offers a glimpse at the virtual world’s extravagance, while the interrogation rooms are kept minimal, with only chairs, lighting, and projections utilized to fill up the space. Faust Paneyra’s costume design is fantastic, ranging from sharp and rugged Blade Runner-esque coats to soft and elegant suits. John Batalla’s light design is dramatic and purposeful, accompanied by a good amount of his signature purple hues.
Jenny Jamora’s portrayal of Detective Morris lacks the conviction and conflict her character lives with. Morris’ takedown of Mr. Sims is indicative of her larger goal; a personal vendetta against The Nether, and the pain it inflicted on her as a child. As agent Woodnut, TJ Trinidad has everything at his disposal for a powerful performance, but he is unconvincing in the role. In addition to this, most of his scenes take place in the rear of the set, and Trinidad’s lack of projection doesn’t help him.
Mr. Sims was written to get under your skin; and his dark inclinations should make for a very compelling performance. Bernardo Bernardo’s Sims is the most believable character in the show, though his performance isn’t consistent. At his best, Bernardo’s old-world charm, nuances, and accent help him disappear into the role of Sims, but when he is less restrained, the portrayal starts to unravel. The same can be said for Bodjie Pascua’s Doyle, whose performance in the final scene is gripping, but unconvincing for the rest of the show.
Iris’ complex character is made two-dimensional by Junyka Santarin (partially due to her repetitive inflections), though she may not be entirely responsible. Ana Abad Santos’ decision to maintain the childlike innocence of Iris is misconceived, because the character’s true nature is one of malice. While some may argue that a child as young as Santarin may not be mature enough to fully understand her character or the show’s controversial themes, and that a child of that age should not be exposed to the ideas expressed, there is no arguing against the fact that whomever takes on the role should be able to handle its mature content. Sanitizing what should have been the most uncomfortable and twisted aspect of the show is an absolute shame.
Abad Santos’ direction doesn’t make The Nether everything it can and should be, though this is not due to a lack of understanding of the story or its importance. Her directorial choices were rather tame for such bold subject matter, and they never really go further than what is plainly on the page. For a show with material that is layered in many ways, the lack of depth and cohesion in the direction is jarring, as evidenced by the absence of shared traits and nuances between the real world characters and their Nether counterparts. Presenting a show with this subject matter to a Philippine audience is indeed brave, but the approach is anything but.
Because of the material’s cerebral nature, The Nether had the chance to not only be Red Turnip’s most riveting show, but its most engaging one as well. Unfortunately, the production lacks the oomph and originality that Jennifer Haley’s brilliant script requires. And while The Nether is described as a sci-fi thriller, the sheer lack of thrill and overabundance of misplaced melodrama derail the show’s potential, of which there is plenty.
THE NETHER runs all weekends until April 9.
You can buy tickets here.