IN THE NET Jermyn Street Theatre


       Most dystopian visions set themselves quite far in the future. Misha  Levkov, however, keeps us in 2025, specifying that productions should always be set a couple of years ahead of real time, and the setting is London – Kentish Town. This does keep it  recognizable and clear of sci-fi fantasy, but it also demands that  Britain has gone downhill dramatically fast.  Laura and Anna, half-sisters, and their  father Harry are living in “The Emergency”,  with borders closed and immigration surging. A global drought and sudden  temporary local powers are  severely rationing water (while keeping plenty for officials, we gather ) and cracking down on asylum seekers with a battery of biometric tracking and brutal authoritarianism. 

      Tony Bell,  tripling as an Immigration officer, councillor and predatory estate agent taking their flat off them,  does an excellent job but is offered pretty cartoonish  lines,  representing every Nazified jobsworth the north-London liberal might detest. “No place to run, nowhere to hide. Vigilance. Total eyes and ears and global positioning” he says. And. “…I like the duty chart, the office caff and the khaki. The spiff. The tech. Also – why not say it? – I like the chase…it gets very primal very quickly”.   

        Against him are pitted three women. Carlie Diamond is admirable in a headlong professional debut as Laura,  afire with idealism about the ancient Jewish idea of making an “Eruv”.It is an ancient Judaic custom, originally declaring a neighbourhood as exempt from the strict Sabbath interdict on working or travelling.   Laura sees it as a way to create, by winding threads of yarn between homes and gardens, a sort of sanctuary.  Not just for Jews but for everyone.  Her sister Anna Is a bit of a Buddhist, fresh from a stint at a monastery but disillusioned about the exploitation of pilgrims there.   Finally Laura persuades her that their eruv will not be a ghetto but inclusive, loving,  supportive to all  -“It can be lovely inside a web”.  There is a lot of overwritten gush about this, and though it is all handled by Diamond with great skill and likeability it becomes  increasingly irritating.  Especially as she seems to have, or want, no actual work beyond winding thread round the neighbourhood.    Dad is not impressed either – “daydreams are as bad as nightmares” 

        This fey defiant impracticality is,  it is admitted, basically  part of the girl’s grief for her mother.  Who was the rescuer of the third, more interesting and better-written woman, Hala the Syrian asylum seeker (Suzanne Ahmed, impressive). I could have done with a lot more from her,  not least because she is unconvinced for most of the play by the threading protest.  She also raises the most interesting ideas in the play, questions about expected gratitude, the difference between hosts and friends, and what happens “when asylum seekers want more than we will give”.  

        My sense of frustration eased a bit in the second half, largely because – with a small-space elegance often found in the Jermyn – director Vicky Moran and Ingrid Hu the designer get them climbing, threading, creating the web in reality – with clever projection to exaggerate it into a big mad web in which the wicked Immigration Officer can be trapped and defeated. That at least is properly theatrical,  though the overwrought lines continue to come at you “Is that a yellow moon beyond the clouds or the white sun…Looking down on merry Eruv jugglers who keep the stars in their sky..”.

         Its heart is in the right place, though the fact is signposted so glaringly that it risks a perverse reaction (like being rather sorry for the officialdom  represented by Tony Bell).  I wish I was moved and inspired by it, but wasn’t.  To 4 Feb

Rating two.


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