A disgraced CEO tries to end his life but ends up on a plane between life and death. There, he encounters The Nethernauts, two other lost souls who have taken to smuggling bits and pieces from various realms of this Limbo while hiding from the Fallen Angel. The three of them grapple with hopelessness and what is really important should they manage to find their way back to life. 
Tom Kane's script reads like poetry, its words so carefully specific, conjuring beautiful images and emotions - at times it perhaps leans a little too heavily on mythical references when it could trust in its own voice.

The challenge with this play is that it somehow leaves too little and too much to the imagination at once. While there is a clear point being made about the absurdity of ascribing arbitrary value to certain commodities, and the importance of treasuring more than just the material, we constantly feel as though we are on the edge of a revelation that never comes. So much suspense and mystery is built early on, but the plot seems to rush towards its conclusion leaving the audience behind. 

Perhaps this is partially due to the fact that, with some notable exceptions, generally the production feels a little under rehearsed and lacking clear direction. The potent words of the script aren't able to breathe to their full effect, with pacing that doesn't feel thought through; and in this group of talented individual performers, there isn't the sparking chemistry required to bring out the intricacies, comedic and dramatic, of the text.

What must be commended is James Barlow's direction of the physical theatre in this piece, which is nothing short of stunning. The simple design of sheets and a mask create the ultimate other-worldly creature, and we feel its feelings and are utterly captivated by its every move. 

The technical theatre is brilliant, especially considering the limited playing space and resource in a small room above a pub. Luke Brady's sound design is beautifully eerie, though could use a little more finesse when scene-setting the more mundane moments of the play. Bobby Cliff's make-up in particular is really excellent, somehow acting as a character itself - we notice certain aspects of the makeup as they are revealed in the script, a truly expert demonstration of the craft. And Euan J Davies lighting is perfection - not one beat is missed, and the lights are used both with extreme power and subtlety, doing the heavy lifting of scene changes as well as more stark atmospheric twists and turns. 

The cast is made up of a fantastic group of performers. Kane completely understands the crazed CEO, driven by success and sound-bites. Katie Georgiou gives a (literally) out-of-this-world performance as Bits, nailing every comic beat and brilliantly leaning into the physicality of the role. However, it is Noah Marullo who really blows us away as Wristwatch and Fallen Angel. The first actor on-stage, he manages to make the audience instantly comfortable as he masters his character's awkward discomfort, and he jumps through ranges of emotions in a way that never feels startling but is so very raw. In stark contrast, he takes on the ethereal mystery of the Limbo creature, never afraid of prolonged silence and saying so much in just the turn of a head. A recent drama school graduate, Marullo's career is one to watch!

An interesting and thought-provoking tale, The Nethernauts runs at The White Bear (Kennington) until 24th February. 

Review: Penny Lane  Photo: Lance Penez