Every mother loves talking about her own child. This is what is presented to us in Punching the Sky, where a mother rambles on about her own marvellous offspring. It is Lizi Patch’s personal story about her son; his first encounter with pornography and her reaction to it. I know right? Like it’s not embarrassing enough when your parents find out you’re watching porn, let alone your mother writing a play about it.
The idea is brilliant and the topic is intriguing, yet this play really misses the mark. It is completely unbalanced from the start and very quickly alienates the audience by forcing an exceptionally vulgar opinion of pornography upon them. This forcing ideology of right and wrong actually comes across really patronising, which unfortunately stops us from sympathising with Patch’s character. We are told, very firmly, how we would feel if our own child was exposed to pornography at 11, which in Patch’s world is disgusted, appalled and looking for someone to blame. Yet the play gives absolutely no acknowledgement or allowances to the fact that we may feel differently to her.
The official programme describes a play that ‘explores the complexities of our relationship with online pornography’. ‘Explores’ is perhaps the most ironic choice of word, as this play does no exploration, but rather throws an exceptionally one sided view at its audience about how disgusting pornography is and how to deal with the censorship of it.
Unfortunately, there is just no hiding the fact that this is a self-indulgent piece of theatre. Three quarters of the play is made up of Patch telling us all about her son, literally all about him, from birth to age 11, which is irrelevant and only moderately amusing. Patch does try to justify this artistic choice by saying that in order for us to care, we need to know some backstory. But I am still trying to understand why watching her with her legs sped wide, talking about her labour, has anything to do with her son and his exposure to porn.
This plays remind me of a middle class woman telling the ‘hockey mums’ the entire story of her son’s childhood. The play ends and then, once finished, we are asked (rhetorically) if Patch can read us a letter that she wrote to her own son, thanking him for letting her write the play. After even that, a projector screen then plays a home video of her son running around playing. Although lovely, I’m sure, for his family, this adds absolutely nothing to the piece, apart from make me feel like I was the outsider at some weird memorial service.
It was almost like Patch had written this play in order to boost her own confidence and validate herself as a good mother which in my opinion is not good theatre.
Emily Dowson and Milton Webster play personified versions of the Internet plus a few characters here and there to help the story along. Though their presence isn’t necessary and at times irritating, they play their parts with energy. Overall however, I confess to be really disappointed.
Punching the Sky is touring the UK until 30 April. For more information and tickets, see lizipatch.co.uk/punchingthesky.