Pornography. In today’s society it’s everywhere. The volume of pornography available to cater for both sexes and a myriad of tastes is nowadays considered normal, almost mainstream. A number of more extreme sexual acts are classed as violent pornography, but a large volume of videos and images are simply a part of many people’s everyday lives. But is this integration of highly sexual material acceptable, and who deemed it so? Did it happen without anyone being fully aware of the implications and effects it could have on the modern definition of beauty? The impression it would give to the still innocent minds of the next generation? Or the way in which it could be abused by a whole new set of sexual predators, rapists and murderers? We Want You To Watch takes the ideas surrounding pornography and throws these questions smack bang into the faces of the audience, unapologetic and unabashed.
Helen Goalen and Abbi Greenland are the central characters throughout the production, set on highlighting how society’s tolerance of pornography is ultimately detrimental to its growth and nourishment. Along the way in their quest to ban and remove pornography from the modern world they interact with a man, Lloyd Everitt, accused of violently raping and murdering a young woman; they attempt to force Helena Lymbery, the reigning monarch, to pass a law banning pornography; they reflect on the raising of a young boy, Adam Charteris, in a society with such liberal access to this material; and they plead with the ‘leader of the internet’ Bettrys Jones to switch it off entirely and wipe pornography from existence. All this whilst sporadically breaking the fourth wall with spotlights, dancing through scene changes to Handel’s ‘Arrival of the Queen of Sheba’ or a series of heavily synthesised bass lines and wearing a collection of brightly coloured outfits with a rebellious, punk twist.
The writing and the direction interacts well here – Caroline Steinbeis seems to have a knack for bringing just the right amount of shocking to Alice Birch’s punchy and smoothly written script. But both fall down in similar places; the scene with Helena Lymbery as the queen is slightly the wrong side of over the top for my taste, as is the direction in the final couple of minutes where chaos appears to reign over the set. The motive for these scenes is clear and Birch writes intelligent dialogue between Lymbery, Goalen and Greenland that even now I have seen the play makes me question my own pre-conceptions. What is it about pornography that the main characters consider taboo? And how difficult is it to put that feeling of ‘being a little bit sick’ into words? Like the script, Steinbeis directs a movement piece to emulate this feeling so much clearer than words ever can. But the end to this scene doesn’t seem to have purpose – it simply strips away the importance of the message and makes the play feel a bit amateur.
Overall, amateur is not what I would use to describe any part of this production – Goalen and Greenland are a great double act with obvious chemistry and the supporting actors, on the whole, play their roles well. The direction is crisp, the writing is intelligent, witty and poignant and the set punctuates the action without shifting focus. I particularly love Oliver Townsend’s use of the Campbell’s soup cans, plastered with sex labelling. There were just a couple of moments where everyone involved seemed to get carried away; these brought down what was otherwise a very topical 75 minutes.
We Want You To Watch is playing at the National Theatre until 11 July. For tickets and more information, see the National Theatre website.