We Want You To Watch, National Theatre, review: Extreme look at porn eradication

Whole lines of tricky debate are closed off in this breathless mix of drama

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The Independent Culture

“Can we just say we're completely pro sex.”  The physical theatre company,RashDash, who are collaborating here with playwright Alice Birch, have not mounted this turbulent challenge to pornography on prudish grounds. 

They are protesting at a world awash with online porn that is increasingly graphic, violent and barren of tenderness, feeds into a broader culture of objectifying women and corrupts men with its false expectations and debased conception of intimacy.  How can this situation be remedied?

The company hurl themselves at the problem in a breathless mix of drama (that ranges from the blackly wacky to the piercing), boisterously expressive movement and music.  But everything is so pitched at extremes – let's get rid of it all and begin again – that there isn't room for any careful teasing-out of the difficult, complex issues that are raised.  Take the idea of feminist/ethical porn.  This gets the short shrift of “I will not be distracted by that because it is the shittiest consolation prize on the planet” and not worth the tsunami of stuff that does degrade women.  A whole line of tricky debate is closed off.

Performed on a set bristling with tins labelled “SEX”, Caroline Steinbeis's 80-minute production begins promisingly and provocatively.   Our central couple, played by Abbie Greenland and Helen Goalen, are here detectives contemptuously interrogating a young man whose computer record they've got hold of. 

The horrendous things inflicted on a mutilated female murder victim eerily tally with the depraved actions in movies he's been obsessively watching of late.  But does that prove a causal connection?  “Millions of people watch violent porn... and then do a fun run for cancer research and give up their seat on a bus for an old man...”, he protests with taunting smoothness as he hymns his love and respect for the real women in his life.

Disturbing on many levels, that scene is a cut above the episode where the pair try to explain pornography to the crudely caricatured Queen (Helena Lymbery) so that she will sign a law that completely bans it. The monarch, in crown and house coat, responds to their mimed demonstration of its thrashing abusiveness with her own potty dance of abandoned rapture at the joys of good sex. I preferred this, though, to the sequence where a mega-hacker, presented as an orange-suited megaphone-wielding dominatrix (Bettrys Hughes) orders them to perform demented, humiliating dances for the nerve of asking her to “Switch Off the Internet”.  

“You gonna spout me some Horseyshit about the words Consent and Choice not really meaning anything in a deeply patriarchal capitalist society”:  the arguments against censorship don't find their most subtle or persuasive advocate in a shrill grotesque who bawls at her opponents that “I wanna see you vomit up your spleens, bitches”. 

There's a simple, haunting sequence where the pair gaze down on a little schoolboy and predict a future of relationships blighted by his first playground glimpse of porn. But while We Want To Watch You is patently well-intentioned, it is only fitfully illuminating.

To July 11; 020 7452 3000

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