Reviewed – 12th June 2019
“a reminder yet again of the power of theatre to bring into the light, things that would rather hide in darkness”
Matthew Gouldesbrough’s play Holy Land is a grim and disturbing look at the dark web. For audience members unaware of the dark web, it is the part of the internet not indexed by search engines. Those who post and access material on it, do so anonymously. Holy Land begins with a character describing the ease with which he can buy a gun on the dark web, no questions asked. In the space of eighty minutes, we find that the purchase of the gun is really just the final purchase in a long line of chilling acquisitions that include videos of pornography, including pornography with violence.
Harrowing stuff indeed. Nevertheless, Holy Land is an inventive script that tells its story by putting together three characters who address the audience in a series of monologues. We eventually come to understand that they all have a shared past which involves encounters with predators on and offline. Rick Romero as Jon, gives an intense, athletic performance as a bewildered father trying to hold his family together against a predatory local church. Gouldesbrough, in addition to writing the script, is the young computer nerd Tim, lured into situations of increasing horror as he tries to avoid a psychopath he first encountered in school. Hannah Morrison gives an all too believable performance as Kate, a teenager with chronic and ultimately fatal self-esteem issues, who is groomed in all sorts of online nastiness. In the ironically titled Holy Land, Gouldesbrough has created a modern morality tale where there are no winners, and no comfort for the survivors, either.
Holy Land is an economical show that focuses on the actors, with a bare boards set. But because it’s a play about the internet, the actors are also always on stage with screens. This is not an entirely successful device. Meant as a counterpoint to descriptions of videos online, the images are often presented as grainy and indistinct, but the overall effect can be distracting. Even when used to present a kind of livestream action at the end of the play, to underpin the “this is happening now in front of you” theme of the videos being presented online, the use of screens in this way comes across as a gimmick rather than illuminating. In any event, the actors have all the words they need to tell this tragic story.
Holy Land is not a play for family audiences, and there will be theatre goers who find this play challenging to sit through. Nevertheless Elegy Theatre Company deserves credit for bringing such a difficult subject to the stage. It’s a reminder yet again of the power of theatre to bring into the light, things that would rather hide in darkness.
Reviewed by Dominica Plummer
Photography by Greg Goodale
The Space until 15th June
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: