Reviews West End & Central Published 17 June 2015

We Want You To Watch

National Theatre ⋄ 11th June - 11th July 2015

Restless feminist protest.

Verity Healey

We Want You to Watch grapples with the subject of heterosexual internet porn. “Apologies for that,” says one of the cast members in an aside. We don’t know if she’s joking or not. But this new play by Alice Birch, radically visualised in a form which is distinctly political punk theatre from RashDash, is also inevitably about female identity, power and perceptions of sex.

There’s no story. Two female characters, played by Abbi Greenland and Helen Goalen, take us on an episodic quest to raise awareness about porn and the violence inspired by it. The first scene, in low light, compromises of an interrogation between two femme fatales and a hapless milkman with heavy porn usage, whom they suspect of violently murdering someone called Laura. It is a funny critique of the film noir genre, the same two risky worlds of law and crime, language and judgement. As the women become more arduous and violent in their accusations against the man, the more he is incapacitated and unable to speak. But when the tables are turned and the man becomes the Seeker hero, poking holes in their arguments, they in turn lose not just their verbal power, but physical command in ways that are almost grotesquely exaggerated: his words literally bash them down, as if raping them. Who is in the right and who is being critiqued, as he insists that his consumption of online sex does not influence his real relationships or confuse his thoughts around love?

Perhaps the audience gets their answer with a transitional scene of men in sunglasses holding out tins labelled with the word ‘SEX’, echoing Andy Warhol’s semi-mechanised pop art style from Campbell’s Soup Cans. There’s a silkscreen Marilyn Monroe look-a-like painted on a tarpaulin backdrop, the picture fading around the bright red parted lips which, like Warhol’s trademark prints, remind us of mortality and mechanical reproduction.

We then get a scene with the Queen, who, after the two girls do their best to explain what porn is by using a very violent movement sequence, and a discussion about what sex might be or is perceived to be through its lens, is persuaded to sign a decree banning adult websites. Except, of course she can’t: she, like the two girls, who move through various female stereotypes like characters in role play in a porno themselves, is a doll too.

There’s a lot about the show that’s dissonant and clamorous. How and what we choose to consume, and our agency therein, is under threat and questioned: for instance, men (and women) may choose to watch porn, but they have little choice in how the events play out in front of them in the videos. Being forced to listen to loud music here, experience sometimes loud direct address and watch violent movement sequences, is the same kind of political but ultimately choiceless act, just like watching porn. There’s even a scene where a character, a hacker, controls the music and when and how the other performers dance, which is in itself an appropriation of power. We realise that this is what We Want You to Watch seems to be talking about. Pornography is just another vehicle for this kind of patriarchal superiority, the difference is the scale of intimacy this type of abuse and superiority can breach and how it can change our perceptions of ourselves. The last scene perhaps bears testament to this.

Abbi Greenland, Helen Goalen and playwright Alice Birch seem more like activists in their angry, restless feminist roles. Their particular brand of  protest theatre brings to mind the work of Belarus Free Theatre, with that company’s ability to provoke and ask direct questions. The show may not have a whole lot of answers for the questions it poses. Its viewpoints might feel underdeveloped and one-sided. But it’s young, raw, risky and edgy, it feels political and messes satisfyingly around with the theatrical form. Watching it can be at times an exciting experience. Do we ever feel manipulated? A little. But what show does not manipulate?

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Verity Healey

Verity writes for and contributes to Ministry of Counterculture and is a film facilitator for Bigfoot Arts Education. She is also a published short story writer and filmmaker.

We Want You To Watch Show Info


Produced by RashDash

Directed by Caroline Steinbeis

Written by Alice Birch and RashDash

Cast includes Abbi Greenland, Helen Goalen, Peter Marinker, Bettrys Jones, Lloyd Everitt, Helena Lymbery, Adam Charteris

Link http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/

Running Time 1 hr, 15 mins

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