Clickbait is a new play about society’s attitude to porn and the women who make it for themselves. From the all female writer/director team behind A First World Problem (Milly Thomas and Holly Race Roughan) comes this blistering study of how pornography is changing women’s relationship to sex in the 21st Century.
The play follows Nicola who, threatened with the release of an amateur sex video, makes a snap decision to post it online herself. What began as a drunken night in a dirty club ends with a unique business opportunity for Nicola and her two sisters as they start a network of amateur porn video booths. But where there is demand there must be supply and, as lines become blurred, public opinion begins to turn against the trio. It opens at Theatre5o3 on 19 January.
In advance of the play’s opening, Sam Rapp asked writer Milly Thomas to tell more about herself and the play.
SR: This is a play about women and porn. What were the inspirations to write about this particular subject matter?
MT: The inspiration originally came from a news article I read concerning a woman who had performed a sex act on holiday. I remember being so shocked by the vitriol that came her way and then it became less about that particular news article but more about thinking about our attitudes to women and sex and the bigger questions for victims of revenge porn. ‘What do you do. How do you get on with your life? Where do you go?’ It also got me thinking about how revenge pornography is blurring the line between sex and pornography and how women fit in that particular mire of sexual politics. It also took me off on a journey of exploring what it might be like to attempt to capitalise on the porn market – the idea that one way of consolidating the thing that had happened to you might be to lean into it and see where it leads you.
SR: Did you have any concerns about writing about women and porn as it can be a challenging subject matter?
MT: I honestly haven’t been concerned only because I feel the subject matter is hugely important. Pornography certainly can be challenging for some people, but the fact is that it’s mainstream now. Pornography is everywhere. From sexualised marketing campaigns right down to the music we listen to. And nine times out of ten it’s women who are being objectified by it. I just want to get a dialogue going. I’m not here to condemn porn just as I am not here to promote it either and my characters’ voices reflect this. I don’t have any answers or a mission statement, I’d just love to know what other people’s responses are.
SR: Did you have any hostility regarding the subject matter?
MT: None whatsoever, which is hugely encouraging.
SR: Are you looking forward to the press night?
MT: Very much so. I promised my mum I’d wear smart shoes.
SR: Are you confident the play will be well received?
MT: I’m excited to know what people make of it. I just want to make people think. One of the best bits of advice I’ve ever been given was ‘If you make art and the whole world loves it, you’re doing it wrong.’ This shouldn’t be interpreted as going out to deliberately provoke. I see it as sticking to your gut and standing proudly by your work.
SR: How did you envisage the way in which the characters evolve, and has there been any changes, while the rehearsal room, to how you originally perceived your characters to be played?
MT: The wonderful thing about scriptwriting in any format is that once you hand it over to a room full of actors it’s like Frankenstein’s monster and a switch is flipped and the script comes to life. It’s one of my favourite bits of the process because you can be surprised, delighted and challenged – often all at the same time. Clickbait has been no different, which delights me as then it becomes something more than some text I wrote down.
SR: How long did it take to write this play?
MT: I had the idea almost a year ago and scribbled it down in a first draft. It’s been on a huge journey since then.
SR: Have you always wanted to be a writer, how did you start?
MT: I work full time as an actor/writer. Until a few years ago only ever wanted to act. I went to drama school and graduated a year and a half ago. It was only while I was there, when it became my 9 to 5, that I realised that I needed more than being an actor. I love telling stories. Being an actor you get to tell stories for a living, but being a writer you get to create your own. British playwrighting is in such an explosive place and I wanted to add my voice. So I wrote a handful of short plays and entered them into competitions and won some, which encouraged me to keep going. I then wrote my first full-length play called A First World Problem which was picked up by Theatre503 the summer I graduated. It taught me a lot and, more importantly, I had a lot of fun. So much fun that I’m back with the same creative team two years later which is really exciting.
SR: How and when do you write?
MT: I try to keep to office hours as much as possible, especially when I’m not acting. Against my better judgement, I do work quote well in the wee hours, but you can’t work at all without sleep. I try and write every day. Sometime I need to go for a walk and put some headphones in and think about what it is I need to say. Sometimes it tumbles out before I know it’s there. Every play is different.
SR: Are you working on anything else at the moment?
MT: I’m currently writing an episode of a new BBC3 series that will air in 2017, which is a totally different process but just as thrilling. I also start the Channel 4 Screenwriting course this year which I’m very much looking forward to.
As for theatre, I have some ideas that I’m sketching out right now in the back of my head. Soon enough one of them will shout louder than all the others and the process will start all over again.
ClickBait can be seen at Theatre503, The Latchmere, 503 Battersea Park Road, London SW11 3BW from Tuesday 19 January – Saturday 13 February 2016 (Tuesday to Saturday, 7.45pm, Sunday, 5pm)