An Honest Review Of 'The Nether' By A Local Theater Fan

In a Virtual World where you can live without consequence, who gets to dictate right from wrong, or if that concept even exists?
by Lara L. Antonio
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The Long Plot, Sans Spoilers

Set in a dystopian, tree-less future, where cotton and wool are a rarity, and everything else is in decay or disarray, the Nether is a virtual paradise—a retreat if you may—from the dreary, real world. A world many have attempted to leave behind in search of greener pastures, and perhaps any life better than theirs by retreating to the imagined paradise inside the Nether’s many realms.

One realm in particular begins to gain traction. The realm is called the Hideaway—a lush Victorian-age inspired Eden where trees are abundant, anonymity is required, alcohol is readily available, and doll-like little children like Iris (played by alternates, Alba Berenguer-Testa and Junyka Santarin)—are lined up for you to do whatever you please.

Enter Detective Morris (Jenny Jamora)—rookie detective on a mission to take the Hideaway down. With the help of her agent, Mr. Woodnut (TJ Trinidad), Detective Morris begins her investigation, slowly uncovering the most hidden and disturbing parts of the human imagination.

At first look, The Nether looks like a typical science fiction crime thriller, starring a self-confessed pedophile (Bernardo Bernardo), a seemingly innocent professor with a hidden double life (Bodjie Pascua), and a rookie detective wanting that big break, but as the story unravels, therein lies so much more. Throughout the 90 minutes of the show, we discover the emotional bonds that tie them all together—loneliness, the desire for human connection, insecurity, and at the heart of it a longing for something real in all this virtual—a longing for love, or at the very least any semblance of it.

The Honest Plot

Part sci-fi-thriller-detective-story, part OMG-this-is-what's-happening-today, The Nether is a look into the darkest corners of humanity in an attempt to question our existing ideas of ethics and morality: what is acceptable, and what is not—and what happens when we finally live in a world (real or virtual) where freedom means living without consequence?

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The Cast and Where You Last Saw Them:

Bernardo Bernardo, Mr. Sims/Papa


Veteran actor, Bernardo Bernardo, is known for his critically-acclaimed portrayal of several lead roles for various theater companies including Tanghalang Pilipino, PETA, among others. You may remember seeing him last on screen in indie films Imbisibol by Lawrence Fajardo and Lav Diaz' Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis, and of course as Home Along da Riles' Steve Carpio.

 Jenny Jamora, Detective Morris


One of the founding members of Red Turnip Theater, actress, director and producer—woman of many talents—Jenny Jamora was last seen in the PETA/Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) collaboration of the Tempest Reimagined. You may also recognize her as Corey in her sister, Marie Jamora's acclaimed indie film, Ang Nawawala (What Isn't There).

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Bodjie Pascua, Mr. Doyle


With over 200 acting credentials spanning over 46 years of work, Bodjie Pascua, fondly known as Kuya Bodjie (shout out to my fellow Batibot kids!) was last seen in his critically-acclaimed portrayal of Many Okik in PETA's dystopic rap-musical 3 Stars and Sun. You may also remember him from the iconic Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros, Paraiso, and Emir among many others.

Tj Trinidad, Mr. Woodnut


TV and film personailty, TJ Trinidad was last seen in Saving Sally. He has several projects lined up this year including the highly anticipated Smaller and Smaller Circles as well as Jerrold Tarrog's Bliss. On TV, he will be appearing in GMA's Mulawin. He has also recently made his theater debut last year when he played author Bruce Niles in The Normal Heart.

Alba Berenguer-Testa, Iris 


Alba just started performing with Repertory Philippines in 2014 and hasn't stopped since. She was last seen as the little orphan, Tessie, in Full House Production's rendition of Annie: the Musical.

Junyka Santarin, Iris


Junyka has been doing commercials since the age of 5 for several brands including Colgate, and Joy Diswashing Liquid to name a few. You might also remember her from her roles in Dwarfina (GMA 7) and Babaeng Hampaslupa (TV5). Incidentally, this is not her first time work with TJ Trinidad, who she starred with in the movie, Patient X.

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Did You Know?

1. Ana Abad Santos, the director of The Nether was the only one of the Turnips who was not able to see the play live on West End. However, she immediately fell in love with the piece when she read it the first time and decided she wanted to direct it.

2. This is Jenny Jamora's long-awaited return to the Turnip stage since she last acted for Cock (directed by Rem Zamora, who is also the assistant director of The Nether).

3. The show's overall aesthetic—from the set, sound design, to costumes—was heavily inspired by Blade Runner.

4. There is a note from the author of The Nether, Jennifer Haley, that the role of Iris must be played by a child. 

5. Red Turnip Theater's staging is also The Nether's Asian premiere.

6. Yes, both Alba Berenguer-Testa and Junyka Santarin's (alternating for Iris) parents are very supportive, have read the script, and are at rehearsals/shows, ready to answer any of their kids’ questions at any given time. (So don't worry, because let's be honest that's all I could think about at one point in the show.)

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What I Think:

I'm a theater fan, and I always have been. But more than that, I'm a fan of the kind of theater that gets you thinking and talking about the things that matter (who says art should stay out of political discourse and vice versa!!)—and Red Turnip does exactly that. Needless to say, their season finale, The Nether did not disappoint. And hell yes did it leave me with a lot of troubling questions.

Yes, The Nether is a work of fiction. But fact is, it may as well be real. So much of what was happening in this imagined world is already a reality in ours—from people spending practically every waking minute online, to its pivotal new role in our lives (what with fake news and online trolls, personalities who use the internet to spread hate and anger)—we're all so consumed by the internet it seems we're slowly losing touch with humanity, and somehow blurring the lines between right and wrong.

Sooner or later, much like the world of The Nether, our lives are literally going to be in it. And when the time comes, what then happens to our ideas of humanity when whatever human connection we have is left with each other is through avatars in a virtual world? How can we tell what is real then if everything exists in something that is not? In a world much like the seductive virtual reality of the Hideaway—where sensation is almost perfected, your identity is protected, and you find yourself living without consequence—who is to say what is right or wrong? And more importantly, with all the freedom that comes with that, will that question even exist? 

At the end of the show, I felt like I had been sucker punched; not quite sure of what I had just seen. Not sure how I felt about it or how to even begin writing about it. But maybe that's exactly what great theater is supposed to make you feel. From beginning to end, the play was a whirlwind of emotions delivered by a stellar cast you can't help but root for, whichever side of the "virtue and ethics" spectrum you lean towards. Well-cast, intelligently directed and—as is the case with all Turnip material—thought-provoking, The Nether leaves you both moved and disturbed.

Bias (and a few lapel/tech issues) aside, the show was fantastic. When the lights had closed and the actors took their final bows, I didn't know whether I would cry, drink more beer, or just give up and do both simultaneously. In the end, I had mustered whatever it was I had left in me to approach the actors and congratulate them for a job well done, because what a job well done it was.

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The Nether shook me to the core, and if that is not an indication of successful storytelling, I don't know what is. Definitely a show you have to watch (or watch again—I mean, I know I will).

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Other thoughts while watching The Nether:

"Oh my God, I have to write about this. God I have no idea where to start."

"(On Iris) I wonder how her parents feel about this. My mother would never let me play this role."

"Jenny Jamora has fantastic hair. WHO IS HER STYLIST and can I ever pull off that look?"

"If I lived in a dystopian future, I'd want to look exactly like Jenny."

"(On obsessing over Jenny:) Okay, enough. Pay attention to the play."

"UGH!! I knew it! *looks around to check if other people had the same reaction; pleased at self for seeing it coming*"

"Shet. Goosebumps. Definitely a favorite part in the play. Am I allowed to say what it is? Is this going to be a spoiler? SPOILER: It involves a pretty cool block change."

"THAT ENDING THOUGH (—and this is where I attempt to stifle an ugly cry)"

"Real, or not real? (Peeta, is that you?)"

"More people need to see this show. No really, more people need to see this show."

I'd Recommend It To:

Gamers! Definitely, gamers. Anyone who loves a well-written and intelligent sci-fi crime drama. If you're big on Ready Player One (Ernest Cline), Ender's Game (the novel!), or Blade Runner, then this might be right up your alley.

But let's be real, you don't even have to be a sci-fi fan (or a gamer) to appreciate this show. What with its relevance to our country's (the world's!!) situation today, the impeccably nuanced acting, and its over-all aesthetic, I'd recommend it to anyone who loves a great show—and wants to leave the theater still thinking and talking about it (tbh, it's been days since I watched and I'm still thinking about it).

***

The Nether runs all weekends until April 9 at the new Power Mac Center Spotlight in Ayala Mall Circuit Makati. Tickets are available at www.ticketworld.com.ph, Ticketworld store outlets, and at www.redturnip.com.ph.

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