With Blush, Snuff Box Theatre could hardly be timelier in capturing the zeitgeist, exploring society’s concerns about internet privacy and the impact of revenge porn, slut shaming and pornography. Two actors inhabit five characters, both victims and perpetrators: three female and two male, all mired in shame.
Each character is presented separately. Blush opens with a young woman describing with cold, hard, controlled fury how she would like to take revenge on thirty thousand pairs of eyes – because an ex-boyfriend has put private clips of her younger sister online, causing immense distress. In other scenes, a man finds himself drawn into watching more and more hardcore pornography. A shy young woman finds confidence in looking at intimate pictures of herself, and is persuaded by a boyfriend to send them to him. A man at a conference makes an unwanted pass at a female student, blames her on Twitter and his followers weigh in. A woman, angered that her boyfriend is ignoring her, puts the ‘dick pics’ he’s sent her online.
It’s not hard to work out how these stories will play out, but that’s hardly the point. The horror is in the pain and trauma caused by such simple, almost banal, actions. The success of Blush is in showing how just a couple of tweets, an upload of a picture, a few clicks through a website can easily wreak devastation – not just on others but in your own life. The mix of characters and their situations are well-balanced, but it’s clear that while some men can get away with their behaviour, women are almost always punished by society, whether guilty or innocent.
The play takes its time to set up the stories, giving the characters space to establish themselves. Writer Charlotte Josephine plays the three contrasting female characters, who are easily differentiated; the stories are clear and the characters are complex and well-drawn. But in the stories featuring male protagonists, played by Daniel Foxsmith, it’s harder to tell the two men apart, leading to a little confusion. Particularly in the pornography story, this makes it hard to work out what’s actually happening. This is a shame, because after some disentangling afterwards, I felt it was perhaps the most intriguing story; the damage being caused is less obvious, particularly as it’s happening within relationships.
The pace really picks up as the stories reach their moments of crisis: the scenes are quicker, and the characters run around the circular set between them, conveying minds that are racing, caught in a situation that’s out of their control. The set contains lights that the offstage actor moves to point at or away from the onstage performer; there are also spotlights and camera flashes to highlight and expose the protagonists.
Blush is a valuable play, delving deep into issues that are coming into focus in our digital age. It sheds light on how easily terrible damage can be done to the victims, and how hard it is to bring anyone to account. But it is also high quality theatre, and definitely worth catching.