“Sex is the consolation you have when you can’t find love.”
― Gabriel García Márquez
The second of two plays at the Vaults this year, Naomi Westerman’s Puppy is not your usual fayre at suburban playhouses. Bringing together ‘dogging’, feminist porn and recent developments in governmental censorship of pornography, it’s quite a heady mix and a lot is tackled in an hour.
Directed by Rafaella Marcus, the play begins with a young woman (Rebekah Murrell) trying to find a part-time librarian (Lilly Driscoll), whose acquaintance she’s recently made – the twist being she is outdoors, and all around her are very polite and keen middle class ‘doggers’ ‘at it’. To Murrel’s character’s surprise, she does eventually find her ‘date’ there and they do become a couple. However, whether they are exclusive is another matter, leading to a few bumps along the way.
Driscoll’s character undergoes a great many changes, prompting most of the play’s questions, one way or another. From the off, she doesn’t conform to any stereotypes. Asides from being in polyamorous relationships, she’s interested sexually in both men and women. As if her lack of exclusivity wasn’t obvious enough, she partakes in the weekly, Tuesday night dogging sessions… And a bit of porn on the side…
In comparison, Murrell’s lesbian character is ‘relatively conservative’, ideally wanting to spend her time in a one-on-one relationship. However, she accepts the status quo for the time being, until external circumstances brings things to a head…
Driscoll’s character’s decision to make pornographic films for the consumption of women, and have women take ‘creative control of content’ proves to be a success, intuitively having her finger on the pulse of market-demand. However, her films fall foul of new legislation regarding ‘obscene’ material, so she takes her protests to the High Court…
So does Puppy succeed at tackling the notion of feminist porn realistically or least as a plausible, theoretical possibility?
While traces of Fay Weldon’s Big Women can be found in Puppy with its allusion to feminist enterprise, Puppy also has common ground with recent plays such as Milly Thomas’ Clickbait, which also tackles women’s relationship with sex and porn. That particular play also provides a ‘utopian’ answer to this dilemma, but Puppy‘s solution has the distinction of having already begun, with celebrities such as Emma Watson endorsing sites such as OMGYES.com: its raison d’etre being to facilitate sexual pleasure for women.
What also anchors Puppy to the ‘real world’ is the UK legislation last year that was supposed to crack down on ‘extreme’ acts for ‘consumption’, but in reality banned anything that was female-centric or doesn’t involve a penis. Within the play, the challenge to this culminates with the women who ‘participate’ making a very public protest about this backward change in the law. Puppy does an accurate job of depicting today’s media – quick to dish out derogatory labels to anyone who speak out against the status quo.
At the end of the day though, aspects of Puppy lend itself to a comedic tone (the ‘inoffensive’ dogging segments in question are much like the Martin Freeman/Joanna Page scenes in Love Actually). But while challenging the patriarchy’s stranglehold on sex is a major thread of Puppy, the play’s heart lies in the relationship with Driscoll’s and Murrell’s characters – the limits of sexual fufilment and intimacy, especially in ‘open’ relationships.
© Michael Davis 2017
Puppy runs at Morley College, as part of the Vault Festival. It next runs on 2nd March 2017.