The Theatreguide.London Review
Is Serious Business
Royal Court Theatre Autumn 2014
(First of all, that's not a typo. The misspelling is part of the title, though I confess to not knowing why.)
Tim Price has taken on the challenge of making a play out of something with no visuals to it whatever, the online conversations and code-writing of a collection of computer nerds who never actually met each other but managed to cause havoc among corporations and governments around the world.
And it is very much to the credit of playwright, director Hamish Pirie, designer Chloe Lamford and a large and talented cast that they bring it off.
This is what TV calls a docudrama, an essentially true story with bits and pieces invented. A few years ago a small community of computer addicts who met on chatrooms to share discoveries and enjoy minor vandalism escalated their activities to cyberattacks on selected 'enemies', either by overwhelming their websites with traffic until they crashed or hacking into their systems and releasing confidential data.
What began as merry pranksters – one of their most satisfying attacks was the humiliation of a cybersecurity firm that claimed to be able to defeat them – evolved into quasi-revolutionaries as they realised their power and attacked Scientology, Fox News, the Libyan government and the FBI.
In real life all this happened with the writing of unintelligible code on computer screens, but playwright and director bring it onstage by taking us into the online world where the members of Anonymous – or, rather, their online personalities – can interact and exist alongside other online 'beings' like the ubiquitous photos of Grumpy Cat or Socially Awkward Penguin.
People come online (and thus for all chatroom purposes appear out of nowhere) by popping out of the floor or walls and log off by exiting the same unceremonious way, while the sharing of files is represented by passing around drinks.
The writing of a line of code is accompanied by a dance so we actually see something developing and affecting something else while the string of symbols is being rattled off, and it's the occasional glimpses of their real-world lives (a teenage schoolboy here, an agoraphobic Scot there) that seem relatively unreal.
Most importantly, play and production fully capture the excitement of online power, the way Anonymous became a community or family for those missing something in their real lives, and the ease by which success at pranking could lead to a kind of megalomania.
Tim Price's script stumbles only toward the end when he gets more than a bit preachy about the independence and uncontrollability of the internet and wanders toward the pseudo-mysticism of The Matrix.
A large cast play up to a dozen roles each, with Kevin Guthrie and Hamza Jeetooa as, respectively, the real people Jake Davis and Mustafa Al-Bassam given the fullest opportunity to develop rounded and sympathetic characters.
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