Red Turnip’s virtual reality play reflects real world issues

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Red Turnip’s virtual reality play reflects real world issues

The Nether
Produced by Red Turnip Theater
Directed by Ana Abad Santos
Weekends until April 9
The Power Mac Center Spotlight Theater, Circuit Makati

IN A THEATER landscape dominated by musicals, Red Turnip Theater has focused on staging contemporary straight plays. It ends its fourth season in an unusual manner, with a science fiction crime drama, The Nether.

Red Turnip’s virtual reality play reflects real world issues
Bernardo Bernardo with Alba Berenguer-Testa

Written in 2012 by Susan Smith Blackburn Prize awardee Jennifer Haley, The Nether focuses on the dilemmas of living in a virtual world.

In the play, Mr. Sims (portrayed by veteran actor Bernardo Bernardo) creates the “Hideaway,” a virtual space inside online world called The Nether.

Aside from issues familiar in this age of the Internet where people masquerade as someone they are not, The Nether also tackles unsettling issues such as pedophilia and bloodlust. In “Hideaway,”  Mr. Sims runs a business in which clients pay to meet young girls who satisfy their desires.

This and other situations raise ethical questions about living out one’s hidden fantasies and their moral consequences.

The play made its debut in the West End and Off-Broadway in 2015 and has since been produced across the United States and Europe. Red Turnip’s production is its Asian premiere. It is directed by award winning actress and director Ana Abad Santos, one of the founders of the theater company.

“The Internet is really a demon that we don’t know what’s capable of. In the last 10 years, it has developed greatly and has taken us by storm,” Ms. Santos said during the play’s opening night on March 9 at the Power Mac Center Spotlight in Circuit Makati.

She felt the need to stage The Nether because there are issues of morality that people should be reminded of. “Pedophilia is just a tool that they used in terms of games and role-playing. There is a lot that you don’t see. They just used that as one concept, but there are a lot more,” she said of the play.

Joining Mr. Bernardo onstage are Bodjie Pascua, TJ Trinidad, and Jenny Jamora. Young actresses Alba Berenguer-Testa and Junyka Santarin alternate as nine-year-old Iris, an avatar with whom men act out their fantasies.

Ms. Santos admitted that it was difficult explaining what the story was about to the children. She however said the playwright wanted to keep the Iris’ character innocent to make it more believable.

“It was hard explaining it to them because it was a very sensitive subject, but what was important for the play was to keep their innocence. We couldn’t really tell them about everything,” she said.

Ms. Santarin said she had no idea what The Nether was about even after auditioning for the part.

“I got the role and my parents explained to me that it was intended for adults,” she said. “Whenever I have questions in mind, I ask Ms. Ana. But to be honest, I don’t understand some of it.”

Messrs. Bernardo and Pascua said they could relate to the story being public figures who most of the time live a “double-life.”

Mr. Pascua said: “It’s kind of similar to what we, as actors and as celebrities, what image would we show in our public side — like ‘Kuya Bodjie’ (his iconic character from the children’s program Batibot). I have to look for my ‘other side’ and demonstrated something as real.”

Mr. Bernardo noted there are dangers in social media that could lead to lose one’s identity. “We are creating our own avatars… Up until where you will be responsible for this? What are the impacts brought by your own loved ones and other people?”

As the director puts it, The Nether is both beautiful and grotesque, and certainly it is a play that is very relevant to today’s reality, both virtual and not. — Camille Anne M. Arcilla

Tickets are available at and