Rose Lewenstein
Potential Difference
Southwark Playhouse

Darknet Credit: Lidia Crisafulli
Greer Dale-Foulkes and Gyun Sarossy Credit: Lidia Crisafulli
Jim English and Greer Dale-Foulkes Credit: Lidia Crisafulli

Rose Lewenstein’s play Darknet is set in a time where data has become a currency and the Internet giant Octopus is promising a future where it will be able to predict all the choices we might make.

The show follows two school students who have reasons to use the darknet which is under less surveillance than the Internet in general and the spokesperson for Octopus. In the process it touches on issues of Internet privacy.

The fourteen-year-old Kyla (Ella McLoughlin) is trying to get access to a supply of methadone for her mother without having it logged by the authorities. It leads her to approach an older school student Jamie (Jim English) who has a school reputation as an Internet expert.

We meet Jamie as he is being ‘grounded’ by his father for having posted a penis on his school’s homepage. He is clearly troubled, wears a permanent frown and regards himself as a protester.

The charming charismatic Allen played impressively by Gyun Sarossy is the public voice of Octopus, promoting a fantastic future for us all. Except he is slightly bothered that his employer is monitoring his work level and becomes seriously worried when the company is taken to court for using data that a hacker had dumped in the public domain.

In helping Kyla, Jamie comes slightly out of his shell, and Kyla begins to talk about him as a boyfriend. Allan is increasingly drawn to Candy (Greer Dale-Foulkes), a woman he encounters in an Internet room for strippers, though he only ever asks her to talk.

The play is watchable and we can warm to the characters of Allen and Kyla. However the other characters are too sketchily drawn to grab our attention.

There is also a problem with the way the play deals with the issue of the Internet from the clumsy set of squares to the lack of reasons given for the characters who protest against the Internet giant Octopus.

In an age of smart public relations, it seems incredible that any company should call itself Octopus especially one that like Google has its informal presentations, chillout rooms and casual board meetings. But, apart from having the name that sounds like it might belong to an early Bond villain, what does Octopus do which is so terrible? It accumulates data about us for a commercial purpose. Is that any different from every other company’s aspirations?

Jamie says he objects to "the privatisation of data’', but he never explains what that means, and this is typical of the way the protesters are presented. It is never clear why they are protesting.

There have been big rows in America over the FBI's demand that Apple hand over a key to unlock the data in a mobile 'phone, and in Britain the government is trying to introduce new draconian controls on the Internet. Questions of Internet privacy and the right to control our own data have become burning issues. Unfortunately this play does not engage with them in any clear or insightful way.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna

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