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Tom Kane and James Barlow - The Nethernauts Interview

Following the sold-out run of AfterlifeOvertime, Morvern Productions returns to The White Bear in February for a limited run of performances of The Nethernauts. The latest play by Tom Kane, once again set in the epic mythical space Limbo, is directed by James Barlow.

Tom Kane and James Barlow in rehearsals.

Featuring a talented ensemble including Katie Georgiou (Bits), Siân Davis (Pieces), Noah Marullo (Wristwatch, Fallen Angel), The Nethernauts explores one story from the ‘Liminal Cycle’ of plays. Using frameworks from world mythological epics and the history of economics, Tom has created a rich world, full of religious and mythological references and homages. The Liminal Cycle charts the rise and fall of a capitalist city built in the underworld and its subsequent effect on the afterlives of humankind. The Nethernauts explores both the events that lead to the genesis of this city and the deranged man behind it all.

Ahead of the run we caught up with writer Tom Kane and director James Barlow to discuss the show in more detail.

What inspired you to write this story?
TK: I have always loved mythology, I feel like it’s a great way to express difficult things and to learn more about cultures of the world. I’ve worked in zero-hour contract jobs for many years and it feels like in order to do those jobs well you have to let go off your imagination - this project in many ways is a mythic exploration of that problem. This story is inspired by two events: the ‘abolition’ of limbo in 2007 and the 2008 financial crisis. The Nethernauts takes these two worlds, the mythological and the socio-economic, and puts the two of them against one another.

How have you approached bringing it from the page to the stage?
JB: The world Tom has created in The Nethernauts, and the entire Liminal Cycle of plays, is incredibly detailed and otherworldly. I have found the best way to approach such a big idea is to see how much to strip away. Tom’s characters are very fantastical and so the challenge in the room has been finding how to create thinking and feeling characters.
TK: I like working with a small trusted group of up-and-coming actors who have a gift for naturalistic acting within a heightened, fantastical world. With this project, I have learnt to welcome revisions within the rehearsal space via suggestions and ideas by James and the cast.

What kind of research have you had to do whilst developing the piece?
TK: It’ll have to come down to the reading list really. I usually carry a book on mythology and one on finance in my bag at all times. This time around I was reading The Hero of a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell alongside Capitalist Realism by Mark Fischer. I read the two of them alongside each other until they start to blend in my head.           
JB: God Tom name dropping books is gonna make me look stupid haha. I come from a film background and I find watching film is my best way into any project, film or theatre. Because we had made a play set in this netherworld already I felt confident on that side of things, and so I was watching things set in the world of business or around the 2008 crash to really get an understanding on the language and behaviour of those people. A couple highlights include Margin Call and The Nest, which I thought were pretty incredible.

James Barlow in rehearsals.

Having worked together before does that help when you’ve been preparing the production?
JB: I started working with Tom two years ago and we’re 4 films and 2 plays in, so something must be working. I think what I really value is Tom’s generosity when it comes to reworking the script in the rehearsal space. He’s very open to developing things further or cutting things back where we feel like the script might need it, which is great.           
TK: We’ve developed a shorthand over these projects, an honest line of communication, that’s based on trust and experience. Not only as Actor/Writer and Director, but also as the two producers of the play, maintaining that respectful relationship, even when the workload has been a bit full on, has been reassuring throughout production. James runs a great room, which allows for silliness and serious discussion, which makes you want to bring your best self.

What keeps you inspired?
JB: The people in the room. Producing a play independently has had its fair share of setbacks, but to have actors and crew coming in day after day, taking an all hands on deck approach, is thoroughly inspiring. It’s them that’s made this a pleasure.          
TK: Mythology keeps me inspired to learn things I wouldn’t usually learn. I could never keep up a streak on Duolingo but trying to understand myths from other countries has made me try and learn more about language.

What do you hope an audience takes away from seeing The Nethernauts?
JB: I hope they get swept up in the world that Tom has created. The Nethernauts is only the beginning in the Liminal cycle of plays, so here’s hoping they want to come back for round two!

The Nethernauts runs at The White Bear Theatre in London from 13th until 24th February. Tickets are available from

Cast members Katie Georgiou and Siân Davis in rehearsals 

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