A fringe production of an American drama examining the dark side of virtual reality will be staged in Liverpool this month. The Nether, a sci-fi thriller from American playwright Jennifer Haley, is set in a dystopian future and imagines a virtual world where crimes including child abuse and murder are indulged. The play premiered in the States in 2013 and had a West End run in 2015.
It is the latest production from Falling Doors Theatre which was set up by Sarah Van Parys in 2014 after she graduated from the Young Everyman and Playhouse YEP directors’ course.
“I was creating theatre regularly as a freelance, but wanted to start putting my shows on under a company name and start to build up a portfolio,” she says.
And inspiration, it would turn out, came from the kind of freak occurrence that makes for stuff of theatre legend. “I was working on a brilliant play called The Morning After by writer David Cox, when at the pivotal moment of the show, our make-shift wooden door in the centre of the stage fell flat to the floor,” Van Parys says. “The cast magnificently carried on as though nothing had happened, and didn’t let it affect the ending of the play whatsoever.
“I don’t think I’ve ever felt a feeling like it, sat in the audience totally helpless, but thinking that if the work we create is good enough to not even let a giant falling piece of set destroy the tension then we must be doing something right – hence Falling Doors was created.”
Incorporating graduates from the likes of John Moores University, LIPA and YEP, it aims to bring high-quality productions to Liverpool and the North West and take its place among other professional companies regularly producing quality work outside of London.
“We want to challenge both ourselves and the audience, tell forgotten stories in bold, innovative ways and make ‘risky’ decisions rather than playing it safe with our work,” she says. “I want the audience to walk away and not be able to stop discussing the story all night and the next day, and be thinking about it long after it’s over too.”
And so, to The Nether, which is the fourth production for Falling Doors, if you count two outings for their thrilling version of Stephen Smith’s sectarian Irish drama Committed, and one for Dennis Kelly’s unsettling Taking Care of Baby, based on the real-life story of a woman convicted of killing her children.
Sarah admits the themes could initially sound off-putting to some. “There are a lot of twists and turns in the storyline, and the taboo themes – although at the forefront of the play – are intertwined with the themes of human behaviour and technological advancement,” she says. As a fan of Black Mirror, the plays of Edward Bond and many a true-crime documentary, Sarah’s influences are reflected in work that examines the darker side of human nature.
The sometimes “spine-chilling” subject matter of The Nether will, she says, “take people out of their comfort zone”, but leave plenty of room for discussion.
Sarah is passionate about the importance of regional theatre and providing opportunities in Liverpool for professional creatives. Central to this right now is the Hope Street Theatre (the former Masonic Lodge opposite the Everyman), which is coming to be seen as a successor to much-missed fringe venue, the Lantern.
“Theatre in Liverpool is definitely on the way up,” Sarah says. “The Hope Street Theatre has created a real hub, there’s such a lovely community. I don’t think we are quite as far along as Manchester is yet, their fringe scene is huge – but I think we are on the way there.
“It’s so important to carry on creating work outside of London like this. I find it really sad that so many people feel that the only way they will make it is by moving to London, why can’t we change that? The more amazing work we create in the regions, soon people will be wanting to move out of London to make it!”
THE NETHER runs from September 26 to 29 at the Hope Street Theatre, with tickets available via their website.
Photo credit: Andrew AB
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