Milly Thomas’ Clickbait is a thought-provoking exploration of female sexual sovereignty in the Internet age. It treads the fine line between sexual objectification and empowerment in the sphere of PornHub, webcams and the often vitriolic social media sites. Nicola Barker (Georgia Groome) is filmed performing a sex act on several men in an Ibiza nightclub. On returning home she is blackmailed by a man who is threatening to share the video online. Nicola tackles the threat head-on and opts to share the video online herself, thus retrieving her autonomy from the online threat. This is Nicola’s first victory in a play which thrusts its audience through a whirlwind two hours. In the first scene of Clickbait, Nicola exclaims, ‘We will be choosing to “exploit” ourselves’. This sets the bar for a drama which asks questions and resists offering concrete answers to a wide range of issues, predominantly female autonomy in the age of online consumption. Nicola’s decision to post the video is the catalyst for her journey. With the help of her sisters and her ever-patient boyfriend, Nicola embarks on a journey into the sex industry. Firstly she sets up a webcam service for paying customers. With the profits from this, she embarks on a bigger project and provides a service in which sexual partners can film themselves in the act.
The cast of Clickbait collectively offer solid performances. I was particularly impressed by Alice Hewkin’s portrayal of Nicola’s youngest sister, Chloe. The dialogue fizzes fluidly around the intimate Theatre 503. Milly Thomas clearly has an ear for dialogue and there is a genuineness in her portrayal of young adults and teenagers in her script. Often dramas fall short and settle for wooden clichés when depicting the younger generations. Clickbait is Thomas’ third play and she is one to keep an eye out for.
Nicola’s sex business inevitably spirals out if control, arriving at a series of problems. The first is the arrival of a customer with claims of a sexual assault. The second is the issue of distributing sensitive material to third-party organisations such as mainstream pornography sites. With a running time of around two hours, it is the sheer quantity of issues which Clickbait attempts to address which dilutes its impact. Addressing such a broad range of issues such as sexual autonomy, sexual consent, social media and generally, the consumption of pornography online, is simply too much of a task. In terms of directing, Clickbait also struggles with the disparity between social media and the ‘physical’ world. Every move Nicola makes is met with an array of comments on social media sites. I like this idea as it is an interesting way of exploring wider society’s perceptions of women online. However, I did not like the way that these comments were translated onto the stage. Cast members donned fox masks and danced in bewildering jagged movements as they read the comments. This was overdone and generally felt cheesy. Understandably it is a difficult task, but a voiceover reading the comments would have been simpler, less forced and in line with the drama’s atmosphere.
Clickbait is an interesting and ambitious drama. It contains fine moments of humour and often showcases Milly Thomas’ talents. If she can concentrate her future dramas to address one or two issues rather than several, she will prove to be a wonderful playwright. Clickbait tries to do a little too much, sometimes sacrificing its subtlety for heavy-handedness. Nevertheless, it is a thoughtful and genuine exploration of sexual identity, autonomy and sovereignty in the Internet age.