The Silk Road: once an ancient transnational trade route, but more recently, a virtual black market that existed on the dark web. Before Silk Road was shut down by the FBI in 2013, its main operation was the buying and selling of illegal drugs. It is into this murky world that writer Alex Oates, inspired by interviews with real online drug vendors, takes us in Silk Road (How to Buy Drugs Online).
The story centers on a jilted young man, and his discovery of the ease of selling hard drugs on the Silk Road. An explanation in dark web terminology is extremely helpful as our protagonist – or perhaps anti-hero – enters a world into which most of us have never been. Set in the northeast of England, Oates’s writing really captures the unique soul and humour of the area.
Silk Road (How to Buy Drugs Online) is a one man show, and that one man is the talented Josh Barrow. Barrow’s performance is an exhilarating, multi-accented one. The central character of the show is Bruce Blakemore, a young man navigating the dark web universe of peddling illegal drugs. But he also supplies the rest of the characters that populate Bruce’s world. Barrow becomes everyone from Shaggy – a local business man we meet along the way, whose bar provides some wonderful scenes – to Bruce’s sweet old grandmother, Nan.
The relationship with his Nan, which Bruce so comically mimics, at times adds emotional poignancy to the play. However, Nan’s busybody character and her ability to knit tea cosies ends up becoming a central part of Bruce’s drug empire. Unaware of Bruce’s true intentions, Nan knits Bruce tea cosy after tea cosy for him to package and send off for a profit. Little does Nan suspect that the real profit comes from the cocaine slipped surreptitiously by Bruce into each tea cosy.
The show is simply staged, with piles of books and a single chair making up the set, but it is Barrow who provides all the entertainment. Whether this is a play about legalising drugs, internet entrepreneurship, or a lost soul wanting to make easy money on the dark web is up to the viewer to decide. But whatever the conclusion you may arrive at, you might just have a good laugh while you watch.