Soho Theatre, London – until 3 June 2017
“Cock, non-bio.Cock, non-bio.Cock, non-bio.Cock.”
Charlotte Josephine’s BLUSH makes its way to the Soho Theatre after a successful run at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe last year and ahead of a tour across the South of England (and Birmingham). And it’s a play that manages to hit two of my bugbear phrases in theatre writing, in that it is both ‘darkly comic’ and ‘extremely timely’. But though reviewers and publicists may desperately overuse both terms, it doesn’t make it any less true here.
BLUSH is concerned with revenge porn, weaving together five stories of people who have found themselves swept up in this most modern of afflictions. An older sister looks on helplessly as her 18 year old sibling has intimate photos published online by a boyfriend, a father struggles with his porn addiction, a jilted lover is surprised at the reaction she gets when she posts her ex’s nudes, Josephine and her co-performer Daniel Foxsmith show us the many ways in which the issue can impact our lives.
Packed into an intense hour, it is at times dizzying in its constant flitting between storylines and the format means that we don’t always delve into the full depths of what is happening. The shame and guilt of the women who find themselves plastered over porn sites is painstakingly evoked, but we don’t hear from men who’ve suffered the same, if indeed it is the same for guys. And it might have been nice to hear from the teenage boy who whacked up his girlfriend’s nudes, for a little insight into that psychology.
For where BLUSH is strongest, in Ed Stambollouian’s production, is in exploring responsibility, or the lack thereof, in the digital age. The most powerful narratives stem from a young woman who posts her own explicit pictures as part of her desire to boost her confidence via social media, and from a tech-savvy businessman who triggers a doxxing attack on a fellow conference delegate when he details her rebuffal of his drunken advances on Twitter. The (different) ways in which they come to terms with what they’ve come highlight just how lawless the online world can be and how it encourages the abdication of responsibility.
Stambollouian encourages both actors to deliver raw, engaging performances which make the intimacy of the upstairs studio at the Soho perfect for BLUSH, James Turner’s deconstructed design cleverly allowing for Seth Rook Williams’ lighting to create some stunning moments. There’s no escaping the directness of the delivery – the camaraderie that Foxsmith forces from us with his blokey charm, the desperation of Josephine’s burning anger – and nor should there be, BLUSH speaks to us all in asking us how much we share of ourselves.