National Theatre, Temporary Theatre
You could have a civilised, sensible discussion that considers multiple options and outcomes when trying to confront with a complex issue affecting today’s society. It could be very balanced, consider all sides of the argument, and attempt to reach a conclusion that satisfies the interests of the wide range of people the issue impacts.
Or, you could scream, buy a strobe, put up a shedload of scaff, come up with some balls-to-the-wall all-or-nothing solution and get an old man to dance around with a banana.
RashDash and Alice Birch have teamed up to do the latter at the National Theatre.
Honestly, We Want You To Watch is flawed and there are bits of it I don’t like. I’m not especially interested in the Queen as a comedy figure or as someone who holds any shock value and some sections feel like they go on too long. But that doesn’t matter.
It’s about pornography. Specifically, it about the pursuit of ending all pornography so we can ‘begin again’. Various scenes are presented that include the RashDash duo either working towards this goal, or presenting some gut wrenching reason as to why beginning again is the best idea they have.
It has been viewed as unbalanced, un-nuanced and simplistic. When I first came out of it I thought the same thing for a while. Then I changed my mind, because this is 75 minutes of theatre, not a debate team championship final, and I Want To Watch people dance, dick around with bananas and shoot people to save them. Balanced debate it a lot less fun and probably a lot less visually impressive than this show.
And then I really thought about it and balanced debate on this topic can fuck off.
For me, the whole argument was encapsulated within the first scene, within probably the first ten minutes. In one of several asides, Abbi and Helen sit under spotlight and explain that a violent act in porn is actually a violent act. It’s not like video game violence where someone made explosions with some software or film violence where the body double was wearing nice thick kneepads. If someone gets slapped about in porn, that is a person actually getting slapped about and you might actually be getting off to that. Maybe that person said ‘Yes, I will make this porn’, but that doesn’t take away the sting of the smack.
This is supported by a section of movement – the brilliant kind RashDash are known for, and the kind it is brilliant to see them merge with the words and thoughts of other artists even when it doesn’t work – that depicts how violent porn *feels*.
It feels like a hollow, choreographed beating.
So why do we need balanced debate? Why can’t they make a show that says ‘Actually, perhaps the act of having a wank to a lady being tortured is pretty fucking gruesome’? Because it is. Why can’t they say ‘Perhaps if you’re still a child and someone shows you footage of a gagged woman being tied up, fucked and called a whore that could be damaging?’ Even if you grow up into a nice man who does fun runs and helps his wife with the washing up or whatever. Why do we need to be balanced against something that is so plainly, infuriatingly shitty?
The solutions put forward here are over simplistic. Turn off the internet. Create a decree outlawing porn. Begin again. Simplistic, but aggressive and bold in a way that matches the anger the topic inspires. Simplistic but visually AWESOME and a lot more exciting than wondering aloud how we might police pornography in the future.
This isn’t about actually making any of this stuff happen. We Want You To Watch is a beautifully hollow 75 minutes of watching a cast continually humiliate themselves in a series of increasingly degrading acts*, because that’s what porn is. It feels angry and sad and bleak. It’s the trigger for debate, not the solution to anything. I don’t think it’s trying to be. It doesn’t need to be.
*This is also the title of the sequel to Show 5.
[I initially wondered about writing something discussing whether the ‘balance’ thing was put in other reviews of other people’s work. I didn’t remember anyone writing about Men in the Cities saying ‘Chris Goode presents many reasons why Capitalism might be bad, but he does nothing to offer a solution or workable alternative’. I thought about looking into whether the balance thing was applied because this show was made by primarily by women, or because people are happy to talk about capitalism and no one wanted to talk about porn, or maybe turning off the internet upset people because they weren’t sure where to put their reviews. I don’t have time to fully research any of this, but thought it worth mentioning as this all crossed my mind.]