It seems totes appropriate 2 discuss a play about the net in some sort of homage: a reward for the epic bantz. Unfortunately my lingo is limited sad face, wide-eyed blush face.
‘Teh internet is a serious business‘ at the Royal Court had the serious task of mirroring the internet on stage. You know: the technically intangible internet; that network that growls and swirls with the everyday natter of a billion people; the arena that has the burden of entertainment, information and transactions; that place where people have the freedom to arrange pixels and become users: whatever they input becomes their identity; that internet.
A ball pit sits at the fore of the stage where characters are tossed aside and emerge. Different internet sites – such as an inflatable group of palm trees representing file sharing site The Pirate Bay – rise and fall from the stage. The set’s walls are tiled with panels where users and Rick Rolls can appear out of nowhere. Giant neon icons are lowered from the rafters. Memes frolic about the stage like cartoons in animal costumes and each user is a carefully crafted image.
Tim Price’s vibrant and imaginative play follows the rise and fall of a Moltey group of hackers known as ‘Lulzsec’ – a real-life hacking group that splintered from the Anonymous movement. Upholding the freedom of speech on the internet was a common interest in a legion of people who didn’t even know each other’s first names.
The group were responsible for using their prowess to bring down corporate giants who, until then, behaved with impunity on the world wide web. They used lawyers and their weight to replicate their offline might in the virtual sphere. Lulzsex sought to readdress that balance.
The running argument was that the internet wasn’t like the real world. It shouldn’t have to bend to the same rigid social order and limitations that the real world has. And, taken to the extreme, none of the accountability either.
When a security giant threatens to expose their identities in a PR exercise, Lulzsec dupe him into sharing an internet password. They hijack his Twitter-feed and tarnish is career and reputation in one fell swoop: exposing the actual, feeble power of corporations and the contradiction between our view of the internet as a frivolous place, and the reams of sensitive information we willingly pour into it. In a musical celebration the characters smirk and frolic in their polished ensemble: another epic win.
The repulsed attitude towards ‘real world’ rules infiltrating the internet is explored in a serious of vignettes. A red sign reading ‘Offline’ appears halts the fun. Each hacker’s demeanour changes, they hunch their soldiers, become unsure, or stutter. Someone from the world of flesh stands, high above, attempting to coax them into the natural light, to get a job, to feed their children. It’s a poignant reminder, once again, how the internet offers freedom of form and endless possibilities. It can be utterly liberating or completely destructive for people who are already disenfranchised. Power is always corrupting.
Emma Martin’s staging at the Royal Court was incredible: it was an ambitious, choreographed production that flitted between poignant, flippant, saccharine and seducing. The diverse cast was dedicated and demonstrated great ability. Props to the staging team for achieving the impossible: to truly denote the delicious, delirious and elective multiverse of the internet on stage.
‘Teh internet is serious business’ runs until 25 October at the Royal Court, Sloane Square. All images owned by Johhan Person.