Look, maybe it’s satire, maybe the irony got lost somewhere in the air between the performers and the audience, but the thesis of Anthony Neilson’s The Prudes seems pretty opaque to me: a middle aged white bloke looking at Weinstein, looking at #MeToo, turning to us and saying
"I know it needed to happen
but this is hard for us too, you know?"
That doesn’t make the play inherently wrong (or right), but whether you hate it or love it is surely going to correlate to whether you find that statement obnoxious or important.
Perhaps it’s neither, or you’re somewhere in the middle. No problem, enjoy the jokes. There’s an awkward boner straight out of a Judd Apatow movie, and a couple who even bicker about the theatrical tropes they exist in: ‘I thought we agreed the monologues were private’. Sophie Russell, as Jess, achieves David Brent-levels of loveable awkwardness in her desperate attempts at audience rapport. The design is hilariously over-the-top; all-pink, luxuriously carpeted, it’s a well-hung pizza delivery boy away from being the set of a 70s porno. Just make sure you don’t completely write the play off when it opens with the lazy cliché of people feeling awkward to R Kelly’s Bump n’ Grind (it’s a SEXY song and they’re NOT SEXY!!!) and then leans pretty hard on a reversal of gender stereotypes (SHE’s the one who wants sex and HE’s the one who doesn’t!!!).
Maybe, like me, you’ll find yourself guiltily relating to Jonjo O’Niell’s James. He’s been impotent for fourteen months, racked with insecurity about the context of his sexual experiences, unable to say with any certainty whether his partners truly consented, or just relented. Dripping with sweat, he squints under the hot light of a self-conducted interrogation. The accusation: he has a dormant capability of committing sexual assault. The evidence: he’s a man in a society which spawned and celebrated Weinstein to the sound of Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines.
It’s clear that Jess truly loves him, he’s a good man and he shouldn’t worry. Sure, they can both be insensitive: she gives him an ultimatum of sex tonight or it’s over, and he frames a trauma in her past as a horror story, all darkness and flickering lamps. But in the absence of other contributing factors, the play seems to posit that this relationship is suffering unfairly as a direct consequence of #MeToo. It pities them. Sadly, this couple were better off before. The same week, I saw Ella Hickson’s The Writer at the Almeida. It’s a play so blisteringly angry with men that I left feeling the same heat in my cheeks as if I had been personally admonished. I was ashamed. I wanted to scrutinize my behaviour, to change it. I left The Prudes ashamed once again. But this time from admitting that maybe I would be better off not scrutinizing too much, not looking too closely. Not changing. When theatre provokes a response in you, it’s always worth consideration. But some responses are more useful in application than others.
Written by @HGlead