Radio Play: The Coolidge Effect

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Writers: Jack Nurse and Robbie Gordon

Director: Jack Nurse

When warned about drugs, school children are told that puffing on a spliff one day will turn them into heroin addicts the next day. The Coolidge Effect, by Wonder Fools Theatre Company, takes a similar dramatic leap and proposes that watching porn will turn you into a paedophile. While of course there are problems within the porn industry and with porn addiction, this audio play seems a little too moralistic in its storytelling.

The problem with porn, the makers of this 50-minute play suggest, is the sheer variety of subgenres available online – just look at the categories on PornHub. To elucidate this, our narrator (Robbie Gordon) in a perpetually cheerful voice like a children’s TV presenter, cites the Coolidge Effect, an old experiment, which discovered that male rats will have more sex if presented with a constant stream of different partners than if paired with the same partner. Ergo, the person who watches online porn will tire of one fetish, and move on to the next one. If the categories run out, the dark web beckons.

To further highlight the dangers of addiction, we are presented with the simplistic story of Gary, a man who masturbates so much that he often wastes time in front of the screen when he should be preparing the house for when his son, from his estranged wife, comes to visit. By making Gary sound uneducated and almost Neanderthal in his grunts and his oaths, addiction is linked squarely to a certain type of man. Meanwhile his 12-year-old son is also searching for porn online.

This may be a grim reality, and so Wonder Fools try to balance things by discussing the future of porn which could be conducted through Virtual Reality, and, if women are brought into the its design, then there is the chance that misogyny could be banished from pornography. But before this idea is fully explored, we return to Gary and his son, and their dark addictions.

For a more nuanced discussion of porn, Jon Ronson’s two podcasts series The Butterfly Effect and The Last Days of August are invaluable sources. In comparison, while the creators make some interesting claims, The Coolidge Effect seems rather one-sided, and a little late in coming. It’s no surprise that the show has also toured schools and youth groups as, despite the cast’s best efforts, listening to this audio version is like being talked at, rather than being encouraged to think for oneself. This tone is especially apparent when the character Retrospect appears.

Wonder Fools are right to want to bring young people to discussions about porn and addiction, but this audio play perhaps is not quite the right vehicle and a good deal of the humour doesn’t land in the same way as it may do in a physical performance. However, with three new online plays waiting in the wings, Wonder Fools are still a company worth seeking out.

Runs here until 31 October 2020

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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