Pros: Both funny and uncomfortable to watch in equal measure.
Cons: The initially amusing visual portrayal of the internet trolls, while essential, becomes grating after a while.
Jon Ronson’s book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, examines how, in today’s internet age, one stupid act or comment can thrust you into the public eye to be condemned. This is where Clickbait begins. Nicola, a typical 19 year old, is filmed performing a sexual act in a nightclub. She decides to take control, releasing it online herself, becoming an internet star.
The first half of the play draws you in to believe that this is a light-hearted look at the topic of online porn. Nicola, assisted by her sisters and boyfriend, builds an online business with her own webcam service. Then later, she offers a service for others to safely film their own private videos. This illusion that things are going to stay light-hearted is shattered instantly as you return after the interval. Because sitting there alone is another victim of a leaked sex tape. Only this time, filmed with her consent in one of Nicola’s booths. From this point forward Clickbait becomes darker, and the laughs come less often. Now we’re made to think about the consequences, how consumption can affect others. This isn’t to say that the laughter vanishes, though. The use of cuddly teddy bears to demonstrate consent is both funny and disturbing at the same time.
A big problem for Clickbait, as for any play about the internet, is representing social media. Plays are visual, social media is text based, making them unhappy bedfellows. However, Clickbait attempts to overcome this with actors donning masks, giving them the anonymity the internet allows, to read out online comments. This is initially amusing, but as it’s repeated, the appeal soon wanes. These lines though are important, showing both how attitudes change almost by the minute, and in demonstrating the abuse people feel free to issue online. I’m sure in a bigger production this could have been done differently. However, in this small venue it had to be simple. So whilst I was not a fan, I appreciated its necessity.
In contrast, the play deals with the visual side of the sex brilliantly. Rather than graphic scenes, the cast gather around a laptop to view various scenes. Their facial expressions demonstrate all we need to know about what is happening. The wide eyed expression on the younger sister’s face early on really says more than any acted sex scene ever could. It’s this same sister that in bringing Nicola a hairbrush to “use” gives meaning to the art that is displayed in the lobby area, something I’d recommend you study at the interval; it might be an eye opener.
The change in Nicola from innocent 19 year old to powerful businesswoman with a cold, business-like attitude towards sex risks clouding over what I felt was the important issue. Namely how women are perceived when it comes to the consumption of porn. Thankfully this is saved in style as the end sees us return to the very beginning, with the audience finding out what really happened in that nightclub. It’s a powerful end, allowing the audience to view Nicola as a human being; a teen who simply was having a good time.
Clickbait never attempts to answer its central questions. In fact as with all good theatre it leaves you with a head full of questions. Questions you can debate over a pint in the brilliant pub downstairs afterwards. A perfect end to a fantastic play.