Devised from interviews with porn advocates, addicts, mental health experts and scientists, Wonder Fools’ The Coolidge Effect is a thoughtful and engaging piece of work about pornography use in the 21st century. Not everything works – the scope of the work is both at times too broad and too woolly, and at others too narrow – but there’s more than enough to suggest that this company of Royal Conservatoire of Scotland graduates, supported by the New Diorama Theatre, are well worth keeping an eye on.
“Am I Addicted to Pornography?”
That is a question I’ve put to Google
– on more than one occasion.
Bathed in blue light, late at night, somewhere between unplugging headphones and falling asleep.
The Coolidge Effect is a structurally tight, well put together piece, which moves between four different narratives in an attempt to offer different perspectives on contemporary porn use. There’s teenage George making his first foray online; Gary, his father, coming to terms with his own addiction; Retrospect, an MC-ing ex-porn addict and Gail, a producer with eyes fixed on pornography’s VR future. Along the way there are doses of science and bits of audience participation too. Robbie Gordon carries the weight of the work well, keeping things light, letting moments last long enough yet never being too affable; his performance keeps you refreshingly awake, a bit on edge. As a whole, the work is rich and varied, a piece that’s interesting to watch and surprisingly informative.
And I’d say I’m not. That’d be the answer I’d come to.
But then I would say that wouldn’t I?
That, aged 13, watching porn night after night was normal.
That’s just what teenagers do.
The Wonder Fools are talented theatre-makers and it’s exciting to see an emerging (whatever that word means) theatre company making such a varied piece and doing so with a noticeable confidence. One drawback of this variety, however – of their being such a plurality of narratives and, more specifically, of storytelling methods – is that some of these strands feel underdeveloped. This was perhaps most notable in the instances of choreography, which read more as an A to Z of acro-balance, a display of a neat skill picked up along the way, than something which offered another means of accessing the work’s content. This is not to say there’s anything wrong with trying things out – and at this stage in their practice the inclination to do so in one that deserves praise – but a more successful engagement with these different storytelling methods might require a greater deal of focus on each one individually.
And everyone turns out fine, in the end.
Despite hours of watching orgies, teens and big cocks.
Not understanding how it’s made, not really thinking about it.
Perhaps it’s because of the centrality of a male performer within the work – and perhaps it’s because I’m watching it and I’m male too – but The Coolidge Effect’s discussion of pornography feels too narrow. Fleeting references are made to a wider picture – a world where other genders consume pornography too – yet the focus is almost exclusively male and heteronormative. Perhaps this is okay – it’s a big topic after all – and there would be an incredible value in programming this work alongside something like Robert Softley’s Discourse or Intercourse, which explores the liberatory potential of pornography for those who feel marginalised, in order to open up a wider conversation.
Then losing sexual interest, having unrealistic expectations, retreating, becoming fearful of intimacy, touch, actual bodies and
not blameless, not at all, lots done wrong,
but it was the education, the point of access, a drug down the bandwidth
that wasn’t covered in school, not at home.
Indeed, the Wonder Fools themselves close the work by reiterating their desire to “start a conversation,” making a slightly vague invitation to come talk to them at the bar. There’s something incredibly unsatisfying about this gesture. It feels a little cheap, like they’ve dropped the mic and left and that the conversation won’t be sustained for too long beyond the theatre or this evening. I’m not sure that’s the artists’ fault though, or even their responsibility. They’ve certainly done their bit, made a really solid piece of work. Yet I’m frustrated, sitting in the audience, feeling like I’m always present at the start of conversations but that they never seem to last. Who is responsible for talking back to the artists? For supporting a conversation they’ve started? Audiences? Critics? Is that the point of writing this? Is this useful to you?
And it did have an effect, did have an impact, still hard to stop now.
Because I’d say “no, I’ve never been addicted to pornography” – if you asked.
And I’d probably lie about everything else too – how much I watched, what sort of stuff, when I watched it most recently.
And about how, typing these words, just writing the word “porn”, something tingles in my brain.
The Coolidge Effect was performed at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow. Click here for more details.