Darknet (Southwark Playhouse)

Rose Lewenstein’s play runs until 7 May

Darknet Jim English (Jamie), Greer Dale-Foulkes (Candy)
Darknet Jim English (Jamie), Greer Dale-Foulkes (Candy)
© Lidia Crisafulli

In Darknet, society is controlled by a sinister online company called Octopus Inc. Everyone’s personal data is taken, rated, used, abused and sold to companies who then try to sell stuff back to the population via an online platform that everyone is a member of. Remind you of anything? This is the world of Facebook and Google 2.0.

Rose Lewenstein’s play feels alarmingly familiar but the unsettling premise doesn’t mean Darknet is any good. It’s ultimately a big mess of ideas with the occasional strong storyline that gets lost in the confusion of its mix of thriller-cum-romance-cum-cybercrime genres. Kyla’s mum is addicted to heroin, but won’t get help because taking a course of methadone will lower her Octo score. Kyla enlists the skills of young hacker Jamie who can do pretty much anything with a computer – including replace his school website with the picture of a penis – to buy methadone on the darknet, the illegal version of the world wide web.

Elsewhere a guy called Allen who runs Octopus is being diddled by an imprisoned hacker who is telling the world that Allen and his company used data obtained in an illegal way. Allen has a computer PA who is ‘programmed to be a feminist’ and he's also in love with an online sex worker, whose name and address is exposed by a reality TV gameshow. Meanwhile Allen is in the process of trying to convince the world that progress equals giving up all your information to his company.

There are echoes of just about every dystopian online book, film or play in Darknet – including Jeff Noon’s Vurt and, perhaps more noticeably, Dave Eggers' The Circle. Russell Bender’s production has some neat tricks – phone and iPad screens which zoom in on actors faces are held and moved around by the cast, and trippy fluorescent clothes clad people climb out of small frames hung at the back of the stage. But all too often the ideas don’t translate smoothly into practical designs: the scene changes are clunky, the screens occasionally don’t work.

Darknet is not without humour; the ridiculousness of the internet is mercilessly poked fun of through the likes of cat memes and the quickly diminishing length of our attention spans. But these observations of today’s society don’t make the play work. It needs a clearer, stronger, more streamlined message, perhaps even one that can be summed up in 140 characters.

Darknet runs at the Southwark Playhouse until 7 May.