Actor James Baxter in a publicity shot for Silk Road
James Baxter in a publicity shot for Silk Road

A new play about underground website Silk Road is aiming to become the first funded by bitcoin, the controversial online currency that has gained international prominence in recent years.

Silk Road is written by Old Vic New Voices alumni Alex Oates, and will premiere at this year's Edinburgh Fringe.

Oates is seeking to raise 40 bitcoins - equivalent to over £13,000 based on current valuations - through the show's website, and has already received donations.

"We wanted to accept bitcoin donations but didn't think anyone would give us any as the value of bitcoin is rocketing by the day," Oates told WhatsOnStage.

"Last week after advertising the play on the actual Silk Road forums I received a lot of messages of support from drug vendors as well as a few criticisms by those who would like to keep it underground. Then all of a sudden, two bitcoins were deposited into our account."

Those two coins are worth over £700, though Oates is unaware of his sponsor's identity. "We don't know who sent them but we are over the moon," he added.

Silk Road stars Emmerdale actor James Baxter as Bruce Blakemore, a young Geordie tech-head who becomes "the unlikeliest international criminal mastermind you can imagine" after getting sucked into the "underworld wide web".

'Aware of drug safety'

Oates' script is based on interviews with genuine users of Silk Road, which was launched in 2011 and soon gained notoriety as the 'eBay for drugs'. Its founder, 29 year-old Ross William Ulbricht, who operates under the pseudonym Dread Pirate Roberts, was arrested by the FBI in October last year.

According to publicity material, the play "talks about issues of personal freedom and libertarian ideals that are close to the heart of many Bitcoin users" and "in no way criticises the use" of marketplaces such as Silk Road.

But Oates insists it is not an endorsement of the online drug trade: "It's asking questions about personal responsibilty and whether it would be better to have a controlled and regulated drug market... It points out the advantages to Silk Road by contrasting buying drugs online with interacting with real life criminal drug dealers but also the dangers of the dark web, not knowing the actual human effect the click of a mouse can cause."

He says that he is "very aware of drug safety" issues and, prompted by a suggestion from a Silk Road forum member, has added a page to the show's website about harm reduction.

"Ultimately Bruce has a downfall so it's not saying it's good to buy, deal or use drugs," Oates adds. "Drug policy in the UK is definitely due a reform and we have a generation of young people growing up without a lot of opportunity, who have grown up in the digital and internet age. The play aims to ask questions about what people are turning to and why."

Silk Road previews at London's New Diorama theatre on 27 July before opening at the Assembly George Square Studios in Edinburgh on 31 July.