Blush is fine. It’s a bite-size hour of engaged, contemporary drama that tackles a BIG ISSUE – internet porn and the various detrimental effects it has – with style and slickness. It’s polished and smart and smooth and all sorts of words like that, and people loved it at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe. So why did I find it so unaffecting?
It might be because its clumsily difficult to decode, when it really doesn’t need to be. Charlotte Josephine’s text follows five distinct storylines, which unfold gradually as interleaved monologues. A loving father can’t stop wanking over schoolgirls online. The sister of a slut-shamed 18-year-old is desperate for revenge. A TED-talking IT guru commits the social media faux-pas of all social-media faux-pas. A straight-talkin‘ teenage girl sees her nudes uploaded to Facebook. And a shy, lonely, body-conscious woman gets scammed on a sketchy dating website.
But it took me a while to work all that out. The five characters are played by two actors – Josephine herself is the women, Daniel Foxsmith the men – but neither does enough to differentiate them. Sometimes its unclear whether Foxsmith is the Northern app-designer leering towards his worshipful fan-girls at a New York conference, or the secretive father-of-two bashing one out in the family kitchen at midnight. It’s not obvious whether Josephine is the angry older sister who wants to stamp on men’s eyeballs, or the socially awkward employee who gets sucked into a dark world of Instagram filters, sexy photos in the mirror, and blackmail via emails.
Or, it might be that Edward Stambollouian’s
James Turner’s design is cool – a plush, circular red carpet surrounded by voyeuristic cameras (it looks a bit like what I imagine a porn shoot looks like) – and it allows Josephine and Foxsmith to prowl around like caged tigers, simultaneously combatants and exhibits. But many of Stambollouian’s inclusions – flashes of expressive dance, dramatic shifts in lighting, dynamic character positioning – feel arbitrary, as if he had to do something to make it interesting and this was what he came up with.
It actually ends up reducing Josephine’s writing, which is most powerful when simply spoken direct by Josephine herself, or by Foxsmith – both fine actors, when the boundaries of their roles are distinct – sans intrusive direction, sans distraction. It’s at these moments that Blush becomes as thrilling and as chilling as it should be. Elsewhere, it feels a bit self-congratulatory, a bit pleased with its own issue-driven agenda.
Or – forget all that – it might just be that I’m a desensitised pervert who can watch a play about slut-shaming and revenge porn and leaked nudes and death threats without blinking an eyelid, then go out for pizza afterwards.
I really hope it’s not that.
Blush is on at the Soho Theatre until 3rd June 2017. Click here for more details.