Darknet – Resolute Productions

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Creator: Rose Lewenstein

Director: Kitty Ball

‘The more we know the better service we can offer’ claims Allen Young at a press conference for Octopus Inc, where the value of your data is translated into social cache and suitability for community benefits. Rose Lewenstein’s 2016 play Darknet, adapted by Resolute Productions and available for just 24 hours, asks whether the casual sharing of data is a violation of privacy, and if fighting against its commercial resale means we just have something to hide.

Jamie is grounded for hacking the school homepage when he is approached by Kyla who needs to purchase illegal methadone for her addict mother. Unable to access a recovery programme and a prescription because of the impact on her mum’s Octopus Score, Kyle is lured to the dark web. Meanwhile, Allen is riding high at Octopus Inc when he snares a former hacker to work for the company. As his tests out the new Virtual PA service, an impending conference talk changes everything.

Lewenstein’s 60-minute drama incorporates three dramatised narratives with computer-generated graphics and socially distant filming techniques to look at the consequence of giving away our data through social media posts, meme likes and clickbait headlines. By mixing together the personal stories with the corporate perspective, Darknet wonders why so many people remain unconcerned about the data profiling that – in this imagined future state – uses a digitally generated status profile to restrict access to goods and services.

Director Kitty Ball uses camera angles, shot selection and cuts to imply actors are interacting with one another while filmed separately which works quite effectively, and also interlaces the three different story strands to increase the sense of unfolding drama. Digital effects including computer-graphics explain the dark web where Kyla is offered drugs, arms and porn, while Ball varies the approach by incorporating scenes made to look like video chats, phone calls and press coverage complete with rolling tickertape updates.

The overall story nods to Nosedive, the Black Mirror episode in which the central character plummets through society when her daily likes take a downturn. However, Lewenstein is less interested in investigating structural variation for those with scores at the top and bottom than how the original data is generated from seemingly innocuous places such as cat memes and then used as currency to ultimately anticipate your needs without conscious thought.

While the individual angle is explored in Kyla’s attempts to help her mother, it is Allen’s story that is the strongest as he discovers the benefits and consequences of a digitised lifestyle. Played by Liam Glover, despite being part of a corporate monster Allen is very likeable, enthused by his work but also craving a human connection that he finds in an unexpected place. His confidence in the product and rise from salesman to spokesman is convincingly played and Glover offers plenty of sympathy for a rounded character that has more complexity than expected in the context of this work.

Less successful are the interlinking narratives of the perpetually and infeasibly angry Jamie (Callum Morley) and Gwyneth Rhianwen’s Kyla, who is notably older than her supposed 14 years. Rhianwen does well with a tricky story about the effects of poverty and addiction but this aspect of Darknet feels incomplete, while the parental relationships with mum Stacy (Brigid Hemingway), her dealer Mitch (Brandon Warrell) and Jamie’s beleaguered dad Steve (Steve Walker) are undernourished.

There is something a little unfinished about Lewenstein’s story, as Resolute Productions have chosen to perform only half of the play to fit a 60-minute running time. So  if some kind of resolution or catastrophe befalls the characters, it never comes in this production, Darknet just ends. Resolute Productions have created an engaging adaptation using interesting approaches to overcome the limitations of social distancing, but the human stories lack the depth and flesh to make Lewenstein’s warnings truly resonate.

Runs here until 6 September 2020


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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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