The artistic director of We Want You To Watch dares audiences to imagine a world without pornography, and argue with her about it afterwards

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Why would anyone choose to make a piece of theatre that’s critical of pornography?

It’s a good question.There are a number of reasons why it might be a bad idea:

1. It’s a really hard subject to make theatrical. Porn watching is often (though not always) an isolated, solo activity, devoid of human connection and contact. Not much drama there. Also, depicting the internet and in fact any technology is a bit of a nightmare on stage.

2. The vast majority of porn I’ve seen has made me feel depressed, all consumed, helpless. Not a lot of theatre fun in that.

3. It’s one of the most controversial subjects you could choose for a typically liberal theatre audience. Criticising porn can be easily misconstrued as criticising individual proclivities. Criticising porn can be confused with believing in censorship. And if you are going to take a stance on an issue, people will expect you to come to a solid conclusion and have a solution as to what should be done about it.

So there it is. A tidal wave of criticism and condemnation before you’ve even begun.

Doesn’t that all sound a bit too difficult actually, a bit too exhausting?

Well, yes. So why do it?

A few days ago I woke up at 4am. Knowing I was too awake to attempt to sleep again I did what all destructive insomniacs do – I went on Facebook. In literally the first few seconds there was a video, posted by someone I didn’t know, a friend of a friend. I still don’t know why I could see it – no one I knew had commented on it or “liked” it and yet there it was: a still video image of a woman being penetrated, by a horse.

I blocked the person straight away and reported the post to Facebook – who said it didn’t violate their community standards – but the image was still in my head. I had absolutely no desire to see that, and now I can’t unsee it.

This is just one example of porn invading my daily life. You might say it’s an unfair, unrepresentative example, but for me this served as a pertinent reminder of the ubiquity of violent, abusive pornography and the accessibility of these images. They are not hard to find, and you find them even when you don’t want to. Yes, this was an extreme example, but certainly what was once deemed hardcore has now become the norm. In fact I would argue it is more difficult (and expensive) to find porn that isn’t hardcore. And we have a generation of people growing up on this diet, getting their sex education from a violent, misogynist fantasy.

This issue isn’t just about young people though, or people accidentally stumbling across videos they don’t want to see. It’s so much bigger than that. When you start to look at the majority of pornography as the best friend of patriarchy and capitalism, neatly packaged up and sold on as liberalism and sexual freedom it all becomes increasingly vast and all encompassing. And when you take a moment to consider the actual people (and in this case animal) who have been performing the actual acts that we are watching it is even more problematic, on a humanitarian level. In many cases it becomes not just violent fantasy, but violence.

Instead of interfering I could just try to pretend it doesn’t exist. I could leave Facebook, put on some internet filters and keep my fingers crossed, over my eyes, in my ears. But there’s not much use in that. So I’ve been a part of making a show that is bold, radical, and challenging of pornography and of all of us.

The show IS a big old provocation for debate.

It is NOT about making people feel guilty.

It is NOT about providing answers.

It IS about raising questions.

It’s also actually pretty fun and funny and definitely wholeheartedly theatrical.
And I think it is worth the difficulty, the criticism and the exhaustion. But you can be the judge of that.

You can never write everything you think in 700 words. This is a tiny drop in an enormous ocean. So if you’re thinking this is cursory, simplified, missing a lot of arguments, I’d tend to agree. Why not come and see the show and we can argue about it in the bar afterwards.

We Want You To Watch is at Sheffield Crucible Studio, 22-23 Sept, West Yorkshire Playhouse Courtyard Theatre, Leeds, 13-15 Oct and Donald Roy Theatre, Hull, 19-20 Oct.

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