Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Review Darknet

By Rosie Lewenstein 

Living The (Virtual) Dream 

There's a marvellous quote in the publicity of Rosie Lewenstein's unicorn drama Darknet: 

 "You’re not even a fully formed person yet. Your face is still changing and your bones are still growing but already there’s a detailed map of your personality out there ..." 

Somewhere out there, there's a monstrous spawn of data embryos being farmed, literally millions of little corporate bodies with the most slender but tenacious of umblical cords attached to the wallets of all citizens from birth. And we are all uncertain, soft-boned unformed adolescents in this man-made commercially-driven virtual universe. 

The sprawling, scattergun 140 minute play though doesn't live up to the promise of the incisive hook-in, lacking the rigour to follow through fully its implications and the wit to make us to make us catch our breath and re-examine our fetters to this interconnected, cross-referenced cybersphere.

The "real" Darknet, for the uninitiated, is the deep web, an anonymous, uncensored space hidden by encryption. Misused by criminals to sell drugs, weapons and child abuse images. But also a conduit of free expression for human rights' activists, dissidents and journalists seeking to expose corruption. 

Darknet the play is a busy production with frames,  video screens and ipad puppetry, although with scene changes directed with some fluidity by Russell Bender. 

Eventually all the characters in this piece do interconnect, curated into a transatlantic parallel courtroom scene but too often thought-provoking analysis is cut short. Still, there are glimpses of potentially interesting characters and fascinating situations if the play were heavily pruned.  

Jim English catches distinctively something of the public perception of hacker Gary McKinnon and leaves a strong impression as lanky, intense teen bedroom hacker Jamie with Robin Berry as his harassed Dad.  

Ella McLoughlin has a persuasive sweetness and confusion as adolescent Kyla who turns out to have the dubious honour of having a computer virus named after her. 

Despite a conventional webcam sex trade story, Greer Dale-Foulkes' Candy also manages to connect touchingly with the audience, as well as Gyuri Sarossy's evangelical US tech company executive Allen. 

But, among other weaknesses, the script fails to develop Allen's central role and allows him little leeway as more than a tool for entry into the world of home technology gone rogue, mental breakdown and a very, very questionable (well, actually, plain wrong - see Myth #5)  conclusion about data dumped in the "public domain". 

Naveed Khan fares better with the sharper-scripted Asian boss John, in contrast with his other thinner role of jailed veteran hacker Gary. 

There are a few acute one-liners to match the publicity quote - the male simulcrum (Robin Berry again) who lets his master know "I am programmed to be a feminist". Also some hints of programmed phrases and computer studio set ups. And there's a brave attempt to fuse form and content.  

There's the initial auspicious premise of unicorn start up's Octopus Inc advertising blurb of pseudo-empowerment: "The more you share, the more you earn.. you're rolling in data!" set against Kyla's Mum Stacey (Rosie Thomson), trying to wean herself off heroin, but worried how her online Octopus id and rating might be affected.  

But these are over-powered by a curiously dated feel to the storylines. TLT and her tech savvy hatchback were sometimes reminded of the 1995 movie Hackerswith Darknet's East European storyline and  name-and-shame perversion of the game show seeming also like well-worn themes. And the new technology comic set scenes even managed to remind TLT of 1960s' sketch show Rowan & Martin's Laugh In joke wall!

So there may still be space for a play about how far copyright of our data souls should be a human right and not corporate property. In the meantime, Darknet is more stimulating than chatting to a chatbot but it only just slips into an amber light.

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