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‘Actively enhances the intimacy of the original’: THE COOLIDGE EFFECT – Wonder Fools (Online review) ★★★★

Wonder Fools have revived their intriguing two-hander The Coolidge Effect about the insidious effect of pornography, for an audio, lockdown production that actively enhances the intimacy of the original.

Here, in a mash-up of scientific anecdote, stories about little people, verbatim quotes and the kind of futurism that stops short of science fiction, writers Jack Nurse and Robbie Gordon succeed in looking at the dehumanising effect of pornography, while putting a very human twist on it.

The show started as a piece for younger audiences, a way of addressing online pornography that is accessed by more people a day than access all the popular social websites put together. And in its live form, it succeeded as a touchstone for debate that didn’t seek to condemn or demean.

It still works online, although I have no way of knowing whether a young teen audience would engage in this format is they did live. But listening alone, on my computer, it feels correct that the production is now an audio show, allowing it at least one degree of separation from its own subject matter. The new VanIves soundscape background also brings an atmospheric touch of continuity to the whole.

The humanity here is two-fold. First Gordon’s narrated story of two lads – young George who can’t bring himself to fancy Alice, but who easily slips into an online world of lust. And Gary, whose self-disgust at his own actions is obvious as he attempts to bond with his son, little realising how similar they are.

Then Jamie Marie Leary’s turn as a rep for a virtual reality enterprise, talking it up to a sales conference of porn industry professionals. Who brings a more inclusive element to pornography itself, not as distancing event, but as something that can bring people together.

These somehow conflicting yet complementary and down-to-earth tales are twisted together over the course of the play. And given a bit of context by verbatim quotes – from women for whom porn gives them room to explore, sex workers who try to defy the stereotype, young gay men for whom it gives an access to that which they couldn’t otherwise experience.

But the most interesting aspect of the show is the way that it manages to bring scientific rational through the title effect – that male rats has a new mate every day, its mating rate does not fall off in the way it does if they have the same mate in the cage with them all the time.

The irony is that there is also a sense of addiction at play here. Another scientific experiment allows rats to choose heroin in their water supply or not. A lone rat will become addicted and even overdose, but rats living in the equivalent of ratty paradise choose life over heroin.

The conclusion that the use of pornography is not innate but is at least partly a product of environment is not glibly put, either. There is enough here to ensure that a topic whose controversy is only surmounted by its complexity, is brought out in such a way as to spark more debate without any recourse to a judgemental or moralising tone.

The new audio production of The Coolidge Effect is available until the end of August 2020

Running time: 50 minutes
Watch online via YouTube here.
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from News, Reviews and Features – My Theatre Mates

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