tue 28/05/2024

We Want You To Watch, National Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

We Want You To Watch, National Theatre

We Want You To Watch, National Theatre

Theatrical attack on pornography is well-intentioned, but disappointingly superficial

For Queen and country: Abbi Greenland and Helen Goalen lobby Her Majesty (Helena Lymbery)Richard Davenport

“We’re completely pro sex.” Rashdash, who collaborated with Alice Birch on this anarchic challenge to pornography, are not objecting on prudish grounds  their concern is the corrosive impact of degrading, dehumanising material. We are all affected, and we all need to seek a solution.

The potential of this rallying cry is never quite fulfilled by their 75-minute piece. The militant yet weirdly naïve central pair (Abbi Greenland and Helen Goalen, pictured below with Bettrys Jones) adopts extreme positions to illustrate the scope of the problem, but in focussing on the difficulty of articulating a response, the play itself is short-changed. Broad, absurdist sketches reference hot-button topics without delving into complexities. We don’t need (or expect) a magic solution, and the creators consider this a starting point for rigorous discussion, but it’s maddening to see urgent ideas abandoned for shock-jock indulgences like The Queen (Helena Lymbery) boogieing to Beyoncé.

We Want You To Watch, National TheatreAh, yes – Her Maj. The otherworldly avengers tie her to a chair to persuade her to sign a decree banning pornography. When that doesn’t work, it’s onto the nuclear option: asking an American hacker (Jones) to shut down the entire Internet. Is a dystopian void preferable to a world in which a milkman (Lloyd Everitt) can casually watch Rape That Bitch 4 over breakfast  addictive, desensitising viewing that may have inspired the horrifying mutilation and murder of a female student? “Violent porn feeds violent people.”

Or does it? Everitt’s accused claims he can separate sexist torture porn and loving respect for real women – he just likes the validation of someone else sharing his fantasies. In the most effective segment, that compartmentalisation is challenged. An innocent boy (Adam Charteris, pictured below) gets his first view of sex from a nasty porn video on a mobile passed round the playground, and his romantic relationships are tainted by this early conditioning. Misogynistic porn isn’t just a problem for women.

We Want You To Watch, National TheatreYet the issue gets short shrift in a breathless evening. Feminist or ethical porn is completely dismissed, the industrys complex global commerciality reduced to nameless suits, and – aside from referencing our right not to be constantly objectified – the pervasive effect on wider gender politics of porn’s female oppression, whether openly abusive or subtler prioritising of the male gaze, is left unexplored. While Birchs text tends towards bluntly didactic, the movement, though impressively athletic, can be too vague. One exception is the physical mimicking of cold, brutal porn, utterly devoid of emotion and sensuality: Greenland shaking Goalen like a rag doll, slapping her, abusing her and shoving her to the ground. It’s in stark contrast to game Lymbery’s demonstration of the life-affirming joy of sex.

Caroline Steinbeis’s vivid production, featuring Oliver Townsend’s severe factory scaffolding and Ben and Max Ringham’s unsettling soundscape, cant quite disguise the spectacles comparative emptiness. Well-intentioned, but nothing revelatory to contribute to a vital conversation.

The pervasive effect on wider gender politics of porn’s female oppression, whether openly abusive or subtler prioritising of the male gaze, is left unexplored


Editor Rating: 
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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