“Violent porn feeds violent people. Prove that, and we can wipe it out and start again.”
Spoken by one of the play’s female leads, this line essentially captures the premise of this short, experimental, and punkish production. It’s a wild ride, from a frenetic interrogation scene with a man who potentially murdered a woman in a graphic, blood-curdling, and porn-inspired way to the Queen dancing energetically to Beyoncė’s ‘Run the World (Girls)’, to an exploration of a little boy’s first contact with porn, and the deleterious effect it will have upon the rest of his life.
This punk energy even spills out beyond the scenes themselves: the story’s structure is fragmentary, with each of the four or five scenes almost operating as stand-alone pieces, but which together form a vague if deliberately disjointed narrative arc; and the set-design features a large posteral close-up of a woman’s face, her eyes closed and her mouth open – halfway between an invitation and a scream – with the image’s colouring all grey except for the vivid red of the lips and mouth and the white of the teeth. From the moment you sit down, it’s clear that sex (and, implicitly, violence) are top of the agenda.
But what elevates this play above a mere righteous rant and into something memorable and loveable is its humour which, like the rest of the production, isn’t afraid to take a few risks.
There’s a marvellously surreal segment with the Queen. But also, and more daringly, there are several extended sequences of physical theatre. Now, when you hear the phrase “physical theatre,” you might baulk. I know I would. I associate it with tedious, self-indulgent amateur dramatics that actually mean very little. But here, it’s really, genuinely funny, like a Stewart Lee routine that gets stranger and more amusing the longer it goes on.
That the play is willing to be somewhat avant-garde with its humour – and try things you won’t see anywhere on TV, film, or in books – is commendable. That it does this while sustaining in its dialogue a brilliant sense of comic timing is what makes it an enthralling joy. This is heavy subject matter, twisted into an unpredictable narrative shape, and delivered with a playful, anarchic élan.
However, the production isn’t without its missteps and weaknesses, and its cardinal fault is leaving things too open for interpretation. For instance, amongst the mise-en-scène are supermarket-style tin cans with the word ‘sex’ printed upon them, which I presume refers to the commodification of copulation, but which is never explained or even touched upon in the play. Then there’s the brief appearance of an old man, whose role is simply baffling. And then there’s the orgiastic finale which, though entertainingly bacchanalian, doesn’t make it clear what message the play wants to leave you with.
Nonetheless, these blemishes are outshone by the play’s numerous successes.
If you Google this play, you’ll see it’s had mostly negative reviews; and more than that, that the main criticism levelled at it is not the one I mentioned above. So, in a spirit of good old-fashioned scribal warfare, I’ll try to explode their argument.
Basically, every indictment of the play I’ve come seems to hinge upon the idea that this production – which calls for an end to porn as it currently stands – doesn’t show us what the alternative, replacement porn should be. To which the only answer must surely be: “so what?”
Obviously, if the play was called “Porn: A manifesto for an alternative society,” then fair enough. But it’s not. It never claimed it would provide the “second-coming” of porn (ooh er), and so for critics to condemn it on this basis seems ludicrous.
So let’s judge this play by what it is: it’s a scatty and slightly demented exploration of an idea that’s totally relevant to our times. It’s got a big heart that’s in the right place. Take it on these terms, and you’re in for an uproarious – and sometimes startlingly uninhibited – treat. Check it out while you can.
‘We Want You To Watch’ has a running time of 70 minutes.