Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Milly Thomas: Clickbait

By | Published on Thursday 14 January 2016


The latest show to make its way to Theatre503 is ‘Clickbait’, a play that tackles a complex, current, and emotive issue – the subject of pornography, something that in the internet age, has spilled over from the ‘seedy corners’ and into our everyday lives.
It’s the work of up and coming playwright (and actor) Milly Thomas. I put some questions to her, to find out more about the piece, her career, and what she hopes her writing will achieve.

CM: Don’t give too much away, obviously, but can you tell us a bit about the play? What’s the basic premise?
MT: In a nutshell, this is a play about a woman, threatened by revenge pornography, who then finds herself in a unique position to profit from it. It’s also a play about muddled feminism, our attitudes to pornography, in particular women in pornography, the internet, sisters and capitalism to name a few.

CM: What are you trying to do with the play? Is it entertainment, education, is it making a point about society? Perhaps all those things…?
MT: I guess I always set out to write something entertaining but thought provoking. Writing is my way of engaging with the world and this is something I’ve wanted to talk about for a long time. I don’t have any answers, but I’m desperate to get a dialogue going.

CM: What inspired you to write about this particular topic?
MT: I had the idea after reading an article a while ago about a girl who had been slut-shamed after performing a sex act on holiday. I remember being appalled at the wave of vitriol she received – some from people I had previously thought of as feminist – and I couldn’t let it go. The more I thought about it the less it became about that particular case and more about what one’s next steps would be, how does one move on from an act like revenge pornography and our attitudes to pornography in general: how society talks to women and how women are talking to each other about sex.

CM: Pornography is a topic that divides feminist thinking, with those who identify as ‘sex-positive’ and those who feel that porn, and indeed, sex work generally, can never really be feminist. What’s your own opinion? Is this something that your play addresses?
MT: This is very much an issue that ‘Clickbait’ tackles head on. My answer is, that I don’t have any answers, which is why I’ve been so keen to write about it. I constantly oscillate between finding it empowering and finding it unhelpful, potentially harmful. My problem with porn is not that it exists, but that it has become normalised. It’s in our advertising. It’s in our relationships and potentially morphing our sexual preferences. I just don’t want to see it when I’m eating my breakfast or walking down the street.

CM: Do you think theatre has begun to reflect more recent developments in feminist thinking and activity? Do you feel as though you are part of the latest ‘wave’?
MT: I would definitely say that I have seen more plays that tackle feminism head on in recent months and years but that isn’t to say that those things haven’t been being said less overtly. The reason theatre is so exciting is that it’s always a step ahead of the game. I was lucky enough to go to the theatre a lot as a child and I feel that a lot of what I saw, especially in my late teens, pre-empted what I later ended up feeling as a young adult. Stuff I just hadn’t considered. I’m cautious to say I’m part of the ‘wave’, as I’m aware that I have started writing at a time when the field is wide open and I’ve arrived late to a hugely important gender equality party that’s been very vocal in recent years and a lot of change has been made. It would be easy to sit and reap the benefits of that and give nothing back and so it’s important to me that these discussions keep happening. I was just so excited but the stuff I was reading and seeing that I was desperate to add my voice. I just felt I had stuff to say.

CM: What motivated you to begin writing plays? Is it something you always wanted to do?
MT: I trained as an actor and had only ever wanted to be an actor until a few years ago. The thing I’ve realised is that I absolutely love telling stories. Being an actor is wonderful and so rewarding and you get to be the vehicle for the story. Being a writer you get to create the story. Plant the seed and watch it grow from nothing. I find both absolutely thrilling and now can’t imagine my life without either.

CM: When you write a play do you remain involved once it’s in the production stage? What’s your relationship with the director of ‘Clickbait’ like?
MT: I like to be as involved as the director wants me to be! It’s is hugely useful to be in rehearsals as to see your text in performance and be there for discussions about it is invaluable. Holly Race Roughan is my director/dramaturg and friend. I have enormous respect for the work she does and we have a shorthand that allows us to move quickly. We disagree on things as well which I find exciting. It makes sure that the work is getting pushed in the right direction and it’s never one person’s vision.

CM: What’s next for you?
MT: I’m currently writing an episode of a new series called ‘Clique’for BBC3 and I’ve also been selected for the Channel 4 Screenwriting Course 2016. I’ve got other ideas for plays jostling in my head so it won’t be long before I’m on to the next one. Watch this space…

‘Clickbait’ is on at Theatre503 from 19 Jan-13 Feb. See this page on the venue website for more info and to book tickets.

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Photo: Jack Sain