Theatre: Cyber-pervs tracked on a web of deceit

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The Independent Culture




WHAT DOES the nickname "Q" mean to you? Maybe you're of the generation that would associate it with Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, editor of The Oxford Book of English Verse and a prime exemplar of the kind of gentlemanly Eng Lit scholarship that Leavis and gang wanted to sweep aside. If so, you are unlikely to get much of a kick out of Deadmeat, currently playing in the Courtyard Theatre of the West Yorkshire Playhouse, for the "Q" who wrote the book on which this entertainment is based, is far removed from that old Cambridge belletrist.

Described as "a Maverick Londoner, and multi-media celebrity" who has been "a regular feature of London's clubland over the last five years", Q has collaborated with director Jude Kelly on the theatrical version of a novel which, with a cast of urban blacks, sucks you into a world dominated by digital technology, drugs and chilling out.

Accordingly, the Courtyard has been transmogrified into a kind of cyber night-club, resonating to the pounding Afro-beat of Tony Allen's hypnotic drums. The normal seating has been ripped out and replaced with a network of catwalks around which the audience gather, nursing drinks. Giant screens throw up website visuals and images that chime or strike distressing discords with the story.

The dialogue regularly veers into heightened near-verse, full of internal echoings ("Freak me with those special treats that make me scream like a little girl") or into outright rap. There's stylisation too, in the body language - erotic confrontations present prize fights in a boxing ring between dressing-gowned lovers-aggressors. Some of the personnel only appear in filmed close-up, their disembodied faces looming intimidatingly over the life-size actors who are present in the flesh. Ian McKellen, in this mode, plays a pervy, corrupt art dealer, though the interaction between screens and stage was a trifle complicated the night I saw the show as Sir Ian was also very much there in person, plus entourage, gazing intently at himself and, at the end, executing a beautifully acted moment of modest resistance to taking a bow.

My reaction to the event was: great atmosphere, shame about the story. This latter focuses on "cyber-solicitation"; paedophiles who stalk children in chat rooms - or rather, chat-up rooms - on the Internet.

Tracking down these men, there's a Cyber Vigilante who is leading a string of bloody corpses in his wake. My worries about this plot are technical and moral. As plays such as Closer have shown, part of the attraction of communicating via the Web is the licence it gives to pure (and impure) pretence, the invention of identities. Q's story depends upon only non- paedophiles being wise to this characteristic. It attributes touching naivety to child molesters.

Secondly, Deadmeat seems to exploit paedophilia for its sensational aspects. The questions it raises are couched so crudely (if you knew who the Cyber Vigilante was, would you shop him?), but as a sensitive, ethical debate, the evening is well-nigh worthless. Jude Kelly is on to something, though, with this style of presentation, and should push it further with better material.

Until 5 June. Box office: 0113 213 7700. Website: www.dead