Can A Play About Pornography Be Too Light?

By Sam Smith Last edited 38 months ago
Can A Play About Pornography Be Too Light? ★★★☆☆ 3

Tea with the Queen was never like this! Abbi Greenland, Helena Lymbery and Helen Goalen in We Want You To Watch © Richard Davenport

Londonist Rating: ★★★☆☆

We Want You To Watch by dance-theatre collective RashDash and writer Alice Birch is an exploration into the effects of porn on society today. If that sounds like perfect material to create a hard-hitting play, the end product takes a relatively softly, softly approach.

It may be understandable why because, with such controversial subject matter, if half of the audience were thinking that the piece was genuinely on the edge, the other half would likely be walking out believing it went beyond all realms of acceptability. Nevertheless, the emphasis upon hyperbole and humour only serves to water down something that surely had the potential to leave us numbed to our very bones.

The plot sees two women, Pig and Sissy (played by the artistic directors of RashDash, Abbi Greenland and Helen Goalen), attempt to abolish all porn. This sees them kidnapping the Queen to force her to sign a law against it, and persuading a young hacker to close down the internet. Their argument is that society has been severely corrupted by porn, and that we owe it to our children to start all over again.

The play, nonetheless, presents both sides of the debate. The two women begin by accusing a man of murder because the injuries on the victim’s body mirror those he has seen inflicted in his favourite films. He counters that people are perfectly capable of fulfilling their fantasies when watching porn while living as decent human beings away from it. The hacker is also sceptical as to whether it damages people in any way.

It may have been unintentional, but in the play the argument against abolition actually feels stronger because the women who support it come across as so extreme, kidnapping the Queen and shooting a boy because his exposure to porn in the playground has supposedly corrupted him beyond hope.

Herein lies the difficulty. Everything is so exaggerated that it is impossible to feel as if any of the issues have been explored in much depth. There is lots of effective noise and movement from the committed cast, but it does seem as if the play’s points are simply explained to us by the performers, who very nearly apologise for the ground that it doesn’t cover. At one end, the women argue that there is no barrier between the viewer and the film because the people they watch having sex actually had it. At the other, their gyrations in front of the Queen as they try to explain to her what porn is are so removed from the truth that they are actually (and intentionally) comical.

Visually and aurally there is something to commend the play as, with the audience seated just inches away, the sound and fury of music and dance fills the National Theatre’s compact temporary theatre. It does feel, however, as if the play’s take on the subject matter has been shaped by its approach to the staging, and that the piece’s humour and dynamism undermine the poignancy of the issue.

Until 11 July at the National Theatre, South Bank, London SE1 9PX. For tickets (£15-20) visit the National Theatre website. Londonist saw this play on a complimentary ticket.

Last Updated 16 June 2015