Teh Internet Is Serious Business

Tim Price
Royal Court Theatre Downstairs

Hamza Jeetooa, Nathaniel Martello-White, Natalie Dew, Kae Alexander, Kerr Logan & Kevin Guthrie Credit: Johan Persson
Hamza Jeetooa (Mustafa) Credit: Johan Persson
Kevin Guthrie (Jake), Amir Giles, Kerr Logan & Sarah Golding Credit: Johan Persson
Kae Alexander (Kayla) and the cast Credit: Johan Persson
Sarah Golding (Grumpy Cat) Credit: Johan Persson

Tim Price’s elevation to the main stage at the Royal Court is richly deserved. The young writer has already made a good name for himself with varied works that have been received well in his native Wales, Edinburgh and London, as well as creating an exciting Cardiff-based production company, Dirty Protest.

Teh Internet Is Serious Business has a deliberately dyslexic title, which in some ways symbolises a rather mixed-up play that contains some serious messages underneath an excess of knockabout fun.

Like James Graham in Privacy at the Donmar earlier in the year, Price is deeply concerned about the impact that the Internet is having on all of our lives and, in particular, those of the young.

His early scenes, under the direction of Hamish Pirie, take place in and behind a colourful ball pit into which brave actors regularly dive like performers at a high octane rock concert.

A dedicated ensemble attempts to recreate the world of the Internet on stage for the delectation of viewers, centring on some pretty bizarre and sometimes distasteful sites.

The main drama focuses on a couple of geeky British loners. Hamza Jetooa is Mustafa, a friendless 15-year-old from Southwark who goes by the alias of Tlow, while Kevin Guthrie’s Topiary from faraway Shetland is also a social outcast.

What they share is a genius that allows them to hack into any computer system in the world, without the common sense or experience to understand the damage that they are doing and anger that their actions will inevitably cause.

Eventually, the lads find a quartet of kindred spirits in a virtual space, aptly called Anonymous. Here, they form a group of cyber superheroes intent on attacking evil for entirely altruistic reasons.

Their targets include the all-pervasive, controlling Church of Scientology, the government of Tunisia which is accused of torturing a young hacker and, best of all, the CIA and a boastful Internet security executive.

Recriminations are inevitable as we move from the kind of Hollywood movie where the good guys succeed against the odds into one where criminals are tracked down through the nefarious efforts of the authorities.

There is a really good and strong piece of writing underlying this 2¾-hour comedy drama but, all too often, especially in the early scenes, focus disappears in favour of wallowing in lightweight entertainment.

Tim Price is undoubtedly a highly talented writer with great ideas. In this case, he might have benefited from the help of a strong dramaturg with the ability to turn Teh Internet Is Serious Business into a really sharp and insightful two-hour investigation into the pernicious effects of the Internet on both society in general and some of its youthful geniuses.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher