The Underbelly. The Dark Side. What lurks beneath – our hearts and minds…
Identity. The Digital World. Dreams. Reality. Crime!
…just a few of the things submerged within and turning and surfacing in The Nether…
You’ve worked across numerous mediums, and in various roles, is there any one of those ‘identities’ you more closely associate with yourself?
I love the intersection of ideas and people. And when I started out, theatre became the gateway through which I could engage with both. Different ideas require different mediums to fully explore them.
I think if anything, the unifying association I have for myself through all my work is that of a craftsman. I’m kind of an enabler really – who is lucky enough to work with amazing artists and ideas, and I get to find ways of fitting them all together.
Is there an ‘identity’ then that the industry or public more closely associate you with? And is that ever at odds with how you see yourself? If so, how do you deal with or combat that?
I’ve come up through the associate route, which is another way of saying I’ve been lucky enough to be an apprentice to some of the world’s top directors. That has been both a blessing and a curse.
I’ve always tried to balance that route with my own work, but it has meant that in certain circles I’m viewed as a director, and in others more of an associate director.
We very much live in a physical AND digital realm these days – the ‘digital realm’ only growing stronger and stronger, and wider and wider – with greater and greater effect.
Is it becoming harder for us to have ‘ownership’ of our own identity? How might we be able to stay ‘truer’ to ourselves and really ‘know’ ourselves, when we’re constantly flooded with ever-changing influences and opinions and advertising and products…?
It’s a tricky question! But I think the answer lies in the ways we expose the next generation to the technology.
I grew up pre- the digital explosion. And so, my experience and identity was formed in the ‘real world’. That experience gives a certain amount of context to me for my identity and sense of morality.
I feel that, yes, while the digital world might give us the means to live beyond the limits of the real world, it is the experience of the real world that most definitely contextualises that.
What drew you to this project (out of the many choices at play for you)?
I tend to be attracted to stories that seem to be plugging into conversations beyond the arts pages.
I originally saw The Nether in London, and felt it threw up questions and emotions in me that I hadn’t thought or felt before. “How do I be a true person in the digital age? How do we find a legal frame work within a virtual world? How far should the authorities be allowed to go in terms of its censorship of the internet and collection of our personal lives? What is morality in a virtual world where there isn’t a physical effect in the real world?”
It had so much to say and question. I think it’s also a beautifully written play that keeps you on edge, guessing all throughout.
Not only are we dealing with a social commentary here with The Nether, we are also entertainingly engaged in the genre storytelling world of a Crime Thriller.
Is this a genre that appeals to you personally?
It is. Yes! The play itself is always ahead of you – and without making you feel out of touch – and I think for an audience that is incredibly exciting. And the play is balanced with a series of love stories, which are both very human, and wonderfully complex.
Are there many difficulties involved in translating such a well-known screen genre (in that of the Crime Thriller) to stage?
The stage does it differently. And because it’s live – it’s all the more thrilling!
We are obviously using language, rather than image, to create tension here.
What can audiences expect to experience from The Nether?
A high-speed rollercoaster that excites, engages, and questions.
It’ll make you think, question, and feel.
I’m never one to deny an audience entertainment. And we wholeheartedly embrace that throughout the show.
What do you hope an audience will walk away with most from their Nether experience?
A visceral experience, and, most importantly, a pertinent conversation.
I find the story at times very moving.
What’s next for you – which identity?
Directing – a play called The Jungle, at the Young Vic in London.
It’s a brilliant play about the temporary refugee migrant camp that existed in Calais in 2015/2016.
Who are you?
At simple best: I’m Justin Martin. A theatre, tv, and film director.
Photo: Justin Martin with The Nether cast member Alec Snow.