Nick Hurd watches a new play on society’s attitude to porn and returns home unexcited.
I went into Clickbait knowing almost nothing about it beyond the premise – a girl finds that she has been filmed performing a sex act in a club in Ibiza when a stranger tries to blackmail her over the internet with the footage. To combat this, she decides to release the tape herself, taking control of the situation and her own body.
This was all I knew and it sounded quite promising. Comments on gender and sexual politics, third wave feminism, and digital culture were surely in store and those are all topics I am very interested in and would like to see explored onstage.
However, I did not really get to see any of those topics explored onstage.
I began to become concerned when the play blew through the entire arc of the initial premise within the first ten minutes and instead began to document the rise of Nicola Barker, played by Georgia Groome, as a highly successful camgirl and subsequent porn industry magnate.
And it’s here that we run into the main problem with Clickbait. The play has far too many ideas on the go at once. There are so many ideas, themes and plotlines that none of them have time to really be explored beyond superficially and so none of them really feel cohesive, satisfying or say anything really interesting or insightful. Despite the two hour runtime, Clickbait offers very little in the way of substantive comment on any of the armful of topics it tries to tackle. I also gathered that it was meant to be a dark comedy but nothing about it seemed all that funny beyond the odd one-liner. The play seemed to try for funny banter contrasted against rather dark and seedy situations that could have worked if the writing was stronger but it wasn’t so it didn’t.
The best way I found to describe the piece was that there is a good play in it somewhere. Upon further consideration, I think there are at least three different stories that could have made very interesting and engaging pieces if given enough room to grow. I would have loved a shorter piece that was just about Nicola’s dealing with the threats of blackmail before deciding to upload the video herself or perhaps a piece about the stresses and strains of Nicola and her boyfriend Adam, played by Barney White, trying to maintain a healthy relationship while she works as a camgirl.
Instead, what is a slightly shaky if briskly-paced first half gives way to a second half that left my friend and I rather stunned by the end.
I cannot fathom what Clickbait was trying to say. There seemed to be no message or lesson in any of it and the increasingly bizarre sequence of events just left me with more and more questions. Nicola Barker goes on to commit acts of rather reprehensible exploitation using her network of amateur porn booths. This seemed particularly bizarre as the script went out of it’s way to hammer home the notion that lots of people who use the booths can opt to have their antics monetised and sold by Nicola’s company, so her move to exploit those who had not opted to share their sexual antics with the world seemed downright bizarre. When questioned on it during a press conference in the latter half of the play she responds; “When do I get to win?!” in histrionic tones as if this is explanation enough for a victim of exploitation exploiting thousands of people for profit.
I surmise that this is meant to be her act of revenge against a society that could not or would not help her when she faced down exploitation herself but there is not nearly enough connective tissue in the piece to make this explanation anything more than a guess.
The cast do a reasonable job, Barney White and Amy Dunn, playing Gina Barker, were the stand out performances to me but, like all of the cast, they were hamstrung by a nonsensical plot and weak writing that robbed the play of any real emotional or intellectual punch. There were some decent scenes in the piece but they were too few and far between and, usually, in the form of disconnected vignettes that felt very out of place alongside Nicola Barker, pyjama wearing porn mogul. I felt the final flashback scenes of Nicola’s interview with the police and her interaction with the sleazy club rep, also played by White, were well put together and had something significant to say but they were drowned out by far too many extraneous plot threads to really save the piece.
Furthermore, in a story that centres on a 19 year old girl’s decision to become an internet camgirl sensation, it feels like a tremendously missed opportunity that the company did not make use of more multimedia elements. Surely the audience should see her on camera or at least get more of a sense of her relationship to the camera? Instead our view is restricted to behind the scenes as it were, only hearing about how Nicola is so engaging and powerful on camera secondhand rather than ever actually seeing it. So, instead of using their space effectively, the staging was a rather limited affair that was unfortunately caught between going for a more abstract look and then reverting into a much more naturalistic setting for the second half. Again, the subject matter presented some really interesting opportunities to do interesting things with the staging but it was just another idea that was kind of lost in the crowd.
I feel that this play comes from a place of good intentions and the topics it touches upon are very interesting with lots of potential to them. As noted earlier, there are interesting stories to be told within this narrative if they could be given the space to be fully fleshed out and explored. Unfortunately, no such refinement was performed and, as result, Clickbait is a confusing, busy and ultimately unsatisfying piece that is in dire need of an editor.
To conclude, a muddling, busy and overlong play that needs to properly refine it’s ideas in order to have some real impact.
Clickbait will be running at Theatre503 until February 13th.