Review: Clickbait, Theatre 503 ‘Smart and Challenging’

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Revenge porn. A vicious and vindictive way to shame and humiliate women. These videos are posted without the consent of the women involved, and the men post them with the deliberate intent of causing distress.

But is it possible, in any way, for a woman in one of these videos to turn the tables, reject her assigned role as ‘victim’ and/or ‘slut,’ and become a winner? To draw triumph from where there was only ever expected to be shame?

That is the challenging premise of Clickbait, an impressive new play from Milly Thomas that examines this undeniably tricky issue and shapes it into a smart and challenging story.

The woman at the centre of the storm is Nicola (Georgia Groome). She is being blackmailed. If she doesn’t hand over €10,000, a video of her in a group sex act from a holiday in Ibiza is going up online. In an attempt to take control, to draw poison from the situation, Nicola posts the video online herself. “If I upload it, then it’s mine.”

And from this one act, everything changes.

Clickbait, Theatre503, courtesy of Oliver King, 3 (1280x851)

Her friends are appalled, as is her boyfriend (Barney White). And she is confronted with a tsunami of abuse on social media. But she does have two supporters – her younger sisters (Amy Dunn and Alice Hewkin) – and together they forge a path positioning Nicola as a feminist champion throwing off the mantle of slut-shaming, then together profiting from pornography by starting their own webcam business.

Clickbait benefits from a real energy. Director Holly Race Roughan ramps up the speed and the humour. Clickbait is fast-paced, surprisingly, very funny. Yet it’s central challenge is, where can you take this story next? Once Nicola has weathered the storm, what next? How does this story pan out?

This was one of those rare occasions where I had no idea how the story would end. I was intrigued. But I certainly wasn’t expecting the leap that came after the interval, where we are invited to believe that Nicola would become a ruthless CEO of a nationwide pornography business where ordinary couples hire out private booths to make their own sex tapes – films that Nicola then exploits for profit.

Clickbait, Theatre503, courtesy of Oliver King, 6 (1280x858)

It’s a hell of a leap and, at time, incredulous but its purpose is to demonstrate that the anger and fear doesn’t leave you, but hardens you. That is understandable, but a hard and cruel Nicola is a tough character to spend the bulk of this play with. We are not on her side and it’s not until the very death of this show that we finally, FINALLY, get a glimpse into the extent of the private psychological damage that the original incident inflicted on her.

It’s a long time coming but it’s a wonderfully confusing finale. For all of Nicola’s suffering, you also sense an impressive defiance in the face of overwhelming misogyny. Should she be admired or pitied? Even at the end, there are no absolute answers. In fact, the real strength of this play is that offers no clean-cut answers, but asks many, many, many questions.

Theatre 503, London to February 13, 2016

Image Credits:  Clickbait, Theatre503, courtesy of Oliver King

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