Tuesday 16 June 2015

We Want You To Watch – National Theatre, London

[seen (in preview) 11/06/15]

In publicity blurb, I think it says that We Want You To Watch is *about* *confronting* *Violent Pornography*. Which sounds like a total laugh, and is obviously excellent marketing copy: I definitely wasn’t worried about going to see it. Nuh uh.

But, no! We Want You To Watch turns out to be about as joyous and life-affirming an experience you can have in a theatre while the world is still in the miserable shape it’s in.

I can imagine that there are CRITICS who are cross about We Want You To Watch [I promise I hadn’t read a single other review at time-of-writing]. PORNOGRAPHY is a BIG SUBJECT. There are ARGUMENTS! There are BINARIES that need to be ORDERED. PROS and CONS which have to be PROPERLY EXAMINED.

We Want You To Watch at once acknowledges that play, which they haven't tried to make, and all those arguments against their not having down so.  Indeed, We Want You To Watch anticipates pretty much every argument against it. And also the arguments that people might expect the piece itself to make.  And while it does put information on stage, tonnes of it, it does so playfully, sincerely, insincerely, and playfully again. It is, in short, theatre.

But it’s also A PLAY with A PLOT! Sort of. In my head, it was sort of about a kind of pair of time-travelling ultra-feminists from the future, or now, and/or not time-travelling at all, who both did and did not live in a consequence free universe with Very Serious Consequences. And it had dancing. And movement. Brilliant movement.

At one point there’s a bit where Queen Elizabeth II does a few-minute-long movement sequence to explain what sex should be like. It is literally the best, most communicative, and *actually moving, beautiful thing* you’ll see on stage all year. Maybe. I thought it was awesome, anyway. Massive respect to every single person who made that moment ever happen, and HAPPEN AT THE NATIONAL THEATRE FFS. I mean, seriously. It would have been great, and brilliant, and accurate, if it had been any female character on any stage anywhere. But this was QEII at the NT. Come on. That’s how you do iconoclasm. (By really *not* taking the piss. And *still* being funny.)

Anyway, enough of die Frivolität.

According to Andrew Haydon’s Stupid Law of The Stage: Whatever Something Says It Is, That’s What It’s Not.  Therefore, while this is nominally a play about pornography – violent pornography – to me it felt more like a play about capitalism, using pornography as a metaphor. (Although, thinking about it, it's also then a play which uses the failure of capitalism as a metaphor to talk about pornography.)

What I think is *brilliant* about the way that this piece operates, is that it makes a virtue of its own inevitable failure. You *can’t* make a play about violent pornography that “succeeds”. What would that endgame even be? And, similarly, the makers* probably attack the positions they assume, maybe even more than they attack pornography itself? [On reflection, probably not, but still, the sense of postitions tabled and then retrenched-from, given almost physical form, is intellectually and viscerally dazzling.]  Moreover, though, the piece doesn’t *really* come out and say either that pornography is *wrong* or that it should be *banned*.  Instead it makes a compelling case that it’s hardly the best thing in the world, and does table the more real worry that we have no idea what the effect of the super-proliferation of it will be on the world.

In this, it’s like the ideal play about capitalism. Yes, maybe even captialism (or pornography) has its moments, but underneath those moments are ongoing, real harm, and they are connected. And, no, of course you can’t really ban it, per se.  Instead of making those arguments, We Want You To Watch *shows* us the better alternatives, and makes us *feel* that possibility. “We’re not ‘Anti-Sex’!” they say at one point. And, no, clearly they’re not. The penultimate scene of the piece – to my mind, at least – starkly evokes a lot of the rest of what’s wrong with the-world-in-which-pornography-exists, and suggests the pretty simple, workable solution of people being nicer to each other.

In Herrn Eugen Dührings Umwälzung der Wissenschaft, Engels proposes that: “The interference of the state power in social relations becomes superfluous in one sphere after another, and then ceases of itself. The government of persons is replaced by the administration of things and the direction of the processes of production. The state is not “abolished,” it withers away.”

Such is the argument of We Want You To Watch, with “state power” replaced by “pornography”. It will not need to be abolished, it will wither away. Given *a lot* of other preconditions. But, it’s a hell of a compelling vision.

[We Want You To Watch was made by RashDash – who are usually Helen Goalen and Abbi Greenland – with Alice Birch (usually a writer), Caroline Steinbeis (Director), Oliver Townshend (Designer), Ben and Max Ringham (Music), lighting is by Beky Stoddart and sound Alex Caplen. Adam Charteris, Lloyd Everitt, Bettrys Jones, Helena Lymbery and Peter Marinker also performed, and maybe helped devise as well. I don’t know who did what to make this, I wasn’t there when it was made.]


alex swift said...

certainly a strong point of view
(a poem reconstructed from broadsheet reviews of RashDash's We Want You To Watch)


a proposition for you:
no one wants a po-faced lecture
on the commercialisation of sex

so pitched at extremes
the difficult complex

everything here feels random
there's a small boy,
a fascinating question,

humiliating submissive gestures,
nuanced debate,
blameless lives.

having raised them
two quixotic, militant feminists
i sympathise.

their absolutist,
their revulsion,
their mimed demonstration.

eliminate pornography -
well intentioned.
if this sounds

fitfully illuminating,
barren of tenderness,
habit is proof.

utopian desire
to eradicate
a liberal belief.

the excitement
of genuine argument
not on prudish grounds -

the pair try

the real issue-
how to police

it triggers
it triggers
it triggers

a debate
a debate
a debate

that it doesn't
that it doesn't



a proposition
no one wants

so at extremes

everything here feels.
a boy,
a question,

blameless lives

i sympathise.

their demonstration.

this sounds

barren of

a liberal.



the real



alex swift said...

(as requested - though, blogger doesn't format that shit properly, but hey ho...)