PORN: THE NASTIEST COTTAGE INDUSTRY
Julie is alone, reminiscing with a cup of tea, calling her cat. She’s a geriatric nursing auxiliary, gentle and cheerful, fond of a laugh and a night out. She strayed from a dull marriage to a series of boyfriends but the latest, Garry, has a camera. He likes taking pictures of her in provocative shiny fetish-wear. It’s under her dressing gown. He says she could be a model, pretends she won a prize, takes her for a London photoshoot. They get her waxed and make her snog another girl. Bit of a shock, but it’s just fun, yeah?
He moves on to video. And live sex filming, and rape simulations. She is that increasingly hot commodity, an “amateur girl”. The modern porn industry doesn’t just want professional models, glamorously untouchable. Carnal – and violent – fantasies feed on the girl-next-door. In Amanda Whittington’s 70-minute monologue Lucy Speed plays Julie to perfection: with wide TV experience she conveys with naturalistic intimacy Julie’s ordinariness, larkiness, wild party moments and spurts of quiet shame. Garry, and the boss who remonstrates and eventually sacks her, are voices offstage. We have to like her, appreciate the artless sweetness of her reminiscences about her patients, and mourn her decline to final humiliation and a sex chatline in the small hours (amateur-girls have, to the Garries, a limited shelf life).
It is heartening that theatre, with its uncensored freedom to challenge and shock, is taking on the ubiquity of porn in a digital age when ten-year-olds in the playground swop on smartphones various vivid, twisted and inventive images which their parents’ generation can barely imagine. The NT studio has workshopped a startling piece on the subject, Christopher Green’s “Prurience”, and porn’s influence crops up in the Shed’s Blurred lines and Hampstead’s Rapture Blister Burn. One of the strongest moments in this play is when, confronted by her Matron’s reproof, Julie cries “What’s your husband doing when you’re at work? What does your son watch?”.
Whittington does not conclude with having Julie maimed or murdered (a male writer, I suspect, almost certainly would) . She’s just used, saddened, humiliated, lonely and looking for friendship from the only man who seems to like her for herself. I regret only two things: one is that Whittingron (and director Kate Chapman) shy away from making us understand that by the stage Julie has reached in this ghastly cottage industry she would most likely have met seriously perverted abuse and probably be on painkillers. The other is the suggestion of her having been molested by a past stepfather. It feels too like a cliché. Un-abused, normally happy girls have been drawn into this web by boredom, bad boyfriends and the reckless party vibe. The play would be stronger for admitting it.