WIKILEAKS MEETS JUST WILLIAM
Serious? Not always, it’s not. “Everything is funny all the time!” screams one of our heroes. “Epic Lulz! Nothing is to be taken seriously!”. The topic under discussion is a friend’s suicide. A manic one-man band hurls himself through a ball-pond, a fancy-dress dog, cat, penguin and “PaedoBear” hurtle around with dancing figures in orange running-shorts and dive out of flaps in the wall and trapdoors. Authority, privacy and reflective thought are hateful. “The internet doesn’t care! It sets scenes of mass rape to Japanese rock music! We don’t need a hierarchy! Information wants to be free!”
Tim Price’s new play is manically directed by Hamish Pirie, and designed by Chloe Lamford with that ballpond reflected by huge overhead clusters of brightly coloured balls. Which, at moments in the first half, came dangerously near feeling like a metaphor for its content. But it was never going to be easy to find a visual live-theatre language for the anarchic, lawless, mischievous, disguised online world of the “hacktivists” of Anonymous and LulzSec. And Lamford and Pirie have probably got as close as anyone could.
Certainly, as the hour progresses, you become soaked in the world of these young men – they nearly always are revealed to be such when the irate forces of law catch up with them. Jake Davis ,the young Shetlander sentenced in 2011 to two years for conspiracy to commit computer misuse, and played as a version of himself here by Kevin Guthrie ,collaborated with Price after his release.
It is a world of adolescent alienation, back-bedroom loneliness, defiant clowning, gang identity between people across continents who never meet, and naive idealism mingled with plain mischief. The internet hones and rewards their particular kind of intuitive intelligence, and accidentally throws into their hands the ability to publish the most serious of documents and the cruellest of private revelations. They have no brakes: they are part self-righteous Assanges, part Just William. They attack the CIA and Scientology and the “God Hates Fags” nonsense of Westboro Baptist Church, but have no scruple about “regular people’s data”, emails and passwords, breezily saying “They’re X factor applicants, they crave humiliation!”. They’re kids with virtual Kalashnikovs. They rock the adult world.
As the play goes on – and some get found out, we see glimpses of their “irl” or in-real-life identities. In a lovely moment the shy schoolboy Mustafa (Hamza Jeetooa) turns down an invitation to go for a McFlurry because he promised to help some Egyptian dissidents break into a government server; in another the group easily hack and expose a suited ‘security expert’ . Gradually, as their campaigns grow wilder and their nemesis approaches, the play draws you in, expressing – if not very deeply examining – the astonishing cyberworld we have somehow created, where commerce and authority can be made putty in the hands of clever, troubled, disaffected teenagers.
Spirited, comic, the cast of fifteen give it everything, rattling out codes, hurling merry obscenities, playing up to eleven parts apiece (that’s Sargon Yelda with the record). It will make half the audience feel old, and the other half – well, sort of jubilant…
box office 020 7565 5000 to 24 October
Jerwood Royal Court partner: Coutts