The ‘dark web’, encrypted websites that can’t be found by via search engines or the usual browsers, has made news headlines before, most notably when a large amount of personal data was stolen in 2015 from Ashley Madison, an online dating and social networking service that targets (bizarrely, at least to me) people already married or otherwise in long-term relationships. Holy Land considers the personal stories of Jon (Rick Romero), Kate (Hannah Morrison) and Tim (Matthew Gouldesbrough), whose lives are affected one way or another, through default or by design, by the dark web and other people who use it.
The stories are interlinked, though as the characters separately address the audience directly, at least initially, what these people have in common with one another doesn’t become apparent until the final scenes. At which point I was kicking myself for not having spotted the connections sooner.
The narrative begins with Jon, who points out that it is quite possible to buy guns online in the UK these days. Whether it is legitimate to do so is another thing, but the point is that it can be done. It takes a while to work out why it is that Jon wanted one (I trust it is not too much of a spoiler to say his story doesn’t end happily), but there’s a fascinating tale about the staunch evangelical beliefs of his wife, or more precisely, ex-wife.
Kate’s story takes a while to get going – I wondered if it ever would, with much of the stage time given over to Jon and then to Tim. Given that the play’s events aren’t strictly in chronological order in any event, bringing some of Kate’s version of what happened forward wouldn’t go amiss: as it stands, it comes across (in the first twenty minutes or so, anyway) as this is yet another production where the guys have all the good lines and the sole on-stage female character is somewhat secondary. She comes on, speaks briefly, and scuttles off again, as though in a hurry to get somewhere, and one ends up wondering why she said anything at all.
But when she does get a good few minutes of stage time, hers is as intriguing a tale as the others, though what each person recalls is both individually and collectively harrowing enough to consider the possibility that one or more of the characters could have had their recollection affected in some way, such that what the exact details of what they are saying may not necessarily be precisely how things played out. This is through no fault of the characters themselves, but rather because what happened was, to be blunt, traumatic and distressing – had this been a television show, there would almost certainly be details provided afterwards of charities and organisations that viewers could contact if they had been affected by the issues raised in that programme.
The play’s title is derived from the name of a website that Tim sets up, on the dark web, ostensibly as a platform for people to upload video content without the regulations and community standards of the likes of YouTube. Eventually, though it backfires on him quite spectacularly thanks to someone Tim has known about for years, in the first instance as the classroom bully at school. The use of video projections is a useful addition, a regular reminder of the prevalence and ubiquity of technology in today’s world. The themes this production brings to the table are wide-ranging, providing much food for thought (and lots to talk about in the bar afterwards). Some trimming is required to show with some details that aren’t fully followed through, but overall, this impactful and intense play is highly topical.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Tim struggles to emerge from his backward hometown. After a childhood trauma he creates a website, a dark mirror of YouTube, hosting videos that have no place elsewhere. He justifies the website as deeply human, somewhere the chaos of real life is laid bare and people can be made accountable for their actions. After all, he’s not responsible for the creation of the content – right?
Jon has just lost his daughter. Now he’s planning something terrible…to right the wrongs of life…to prove he’s in control of his fate… to prove his daughter’s death had to be chance…
but is mass violence really the answer?
Kate is trying to get through the day.
She knows she’s gonna get out. She knows she’s gonna do great things.
Just as soon as she can find the money. Just as soon as she can shake off her mother…
but her boyfriend has just bought a webcam and has other ideas…darker ideas.
These connected stories intercut each other, playing with the narrative, whilst asking…
Who’s accountable for what happens?
How little control do we have?
And how much of it can we take?
Jon – Rick Romero
Tim – Matthew Gouldesbrough
Kate – Hannah Morrison
Director – Patrick Medway
11th-15th June @ The Space Arts Centre, London E14 3RS
For further tour dates visit Elegy’s website