Porn is nothing new and revenge is probably as old mankind itself. But slam the two together in a world where we all walk around with recording devices in our pockets and a phenomenon is born.
Nicola Barker did something with some men in a club in Ibiza – or did they do something to her? – that her granny wouldn’t want to see. The kind of thing that, until fairly recently, could be buried in the memory: a mistake to learn from or a wistful smile-inducing remembrance of a wild and well-lived youth.
Not now. A spurned sexual advance has landed Nicola in hot water. A video of her exploits exists and is going to be posted it online. But Nicola, played by Georgia Groome, refuses to let the shame bury her; instead, she declares herself a feminist, a sexual being and posts the thing herself. Bravo.
Milly Thomas’s Clickbait sets out to explore the results, both predictable and unpredictable, of Nicola’s attempt at reclaiming consent. Or does it? What follows is a rollercoaster ride of burgeoning internet fame – as she repeatedly insists she isn’t a sex worker – and the resulting somewhat implausible corporate success.There are sex toys aplenty, riotously funny lines, fruity language and even some slapstick.
Director Holly Race Roughan’s production plays heavily on the witty, cruel and crude language of the internet’s darker places, while the set design – a bed in a cube – mutates from a domestic space to a corporate sex chamber as Nicola’s body is monetised.
But what we see are just the extant results of Nicola’s choices. How she feels remains frustratingly out of reach. As she quickly escalates to testing sex toys on a webcam for cash, she and her sisters-cum-business partners remain just fine with things. Only big sister Gina (Amy Dune) musters a few concerns before they’re quickly dismissed as opinions of a frigid loser.
There’s a weird emotional disconnect among the siblings. Maybe it is a hint at the new sexuality of millennials reared on internet porn and slut-smashing. Or maybe it’s because they exist to colour in a range of opinion and, amid all the frenetic action of the play, there’s little space for reaction. It’s left to vengeful client Kat, vividly played by Emma D’Arcy, to paddle into the painful waters of injustice and heartbreak – but even that is all too fleeting.
We’re still essentially laughing when, in a rather predictable dramatic reversal, the abused becomes the abuser; Nicola’s desperate need to build her sex empire has seen her share other people’s sex tapes without their consent. Her dispassionate coldness and dissolving capacity for intimacy hints at trauma, but whenever she is in danger of looking inwards, her eye turns to business.
As her sex tape empire grows, it’s clear she remains absolutely defined and driven by the trauma to the exclusion of all other things. Her business has to be a success. She needs to own it. Things should be getting a bit uncomfortable, but the jokes keep coming.
At its heart Clickbait is ferocious play about a pressing issue of consent that should send us scurrying off to check, double-check and triple-check our privacy setting in horror. What we get is a light-heart romp through a new kind of social faux pas that stalks around its themes yet never attacks them head on.
Clickbait is on at Theatre 503 until 13th February. Click here for tickets.