mon 22/07/2019

Edinburgh 2013: Ban This Filth! | reviews, news & interviews

Edinburgh 2013: Ban This Filth!

Edinburgh 2013: Ban This Filth!

The story of one man's feminist awakening, with help from a controversial source

Alan Bissett peeps between Andrea Dworkin's covers in Ban This Filth!

If the past week or so has proven anything, it’s that feminism in 2013 has lost none of its power to inspire, anger and enthrall. Given the nature of the abuse meted out to those who raise their voices above the chorus, for Alan Bissett to turn his own feminist awakening into an hour-long show is brave, foolish or some combination of the two. But it’s not as if the author and playwright wasn’t prepared: long before Ban This Filth! was ready for an audience its central thread faced the toughest audience of all - Twitter.

Part autobiography, part women’s studies class, Ban This Filth! is an uncomfortable, thought-provoking and hilarious examination of one man’s challenge to reconcile his belief that he is a generally decent person with the fact that Googling “sex” returns 5,449,336 results. As Bissett retells the moment that women change in the eyes of a 13-year-old boy from the mothers, aunts and teachers who raise them to the exotic creatures in their underwear in the Kay’s catalogue, he seeks help from a controversial source: anti-pornography radical feminist Andrea Dworkin.

Bissett discovers that the experiences of real women rarely mesh with those you read about in books

The contrast is startling when, with a change in posture and stage position, Bissett becomes Dworkin - complete with a passable husky New Jersey accent - reading extracts from her famous 1981 work Pornography. Given the nature of the show, until Dworkin’s first appearance these sections could so easily have been played for laughs, but instead they're respectful and sombre. Cut with incidents from the author’s boyhood, the selections seem absurd at first, until concurrent scenes when Bissett-as-Bissett and Bissett-as-Dworkin share their experiences of being seduced by somebody older. Both encounters are abusive, but while one results in suicidal thoughts the other ends with Led Zeppelin impressions and a visit to a lap-dancing bar.

But the show really starts to get interesting when Bissett takes his new-found knowledge online, where he discovers that the experiences of real women rarely mesh with those you read about in books. Using snippets from real exchanges with sex workers and sex-positive feminists, Bissett neatly avoids the trap laid by the premise of the show: the discussion and exploration of issues vital to women which, with the best of intentions, silence the voices of those most affected. Watching this portion of the show, which in less capable hands could become dogmatic and condescending, is incredibly powerful; particularly as Bissett’s own vulnerability begins to shine through.

  • Ban This Filth! is at the Scottish Storytelling Centre until 11 August

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