Why is the Sky Blue? is a brave new play exploring the effect of online pornography on young people. By Tackroom Theatre and director Abbey Wright, it opens at Southwark Playhouse tonight for a three-week run.
Why is the Sky Blue?, which is supported by the Pureland Foundation, is a challenging but surprisingly humorous new piece of verbatim theatre. With confronting language and thought-provoking testimony from young people, the show contains songs, live music and improvisation.
Some of the discussions feel incredibly intimate, with pairs of performers swapping thoughts in an interview scenario. Monologue scenes and songs take us through online pornography and its impact. The play looks at what love seems like to a seven-year -old, the views of teenage boys and the awkwardness of sexual maturity as experienced by girls.
One song describes how porn is male-focused, with even lesbian porn designed to appeal to the “heterosexual male gaze”.
There is also no holding back on the addictive and emotionally damaging side of porn, particularly how difficult it is to see women treated as props (and treated violently) when you’re a teenage girl just learning about sex.
The play is the result of a collaboration between the charity Barnardo’s, schools, theatres and the Tackroom Theatre company to conduct the largest piece of research ever undertaken on the subject of children and online pornography.
Wright, who co-founded Tackroom Theatre, joined writers Shireen Mula and Matt Regan to interview 10,000 six- to 22-year olds to explore their views on love and relationships and to better understand the effect of increased access to online pornography on their lives.
“It’s been a really long-held ambition of mine to do this,” Wright said in an interview with the Guardian. “We wanted to attempt to track the influence of porn from when people first see it, sometimes around six or seven, to when they’re first entering into adult relationships.”
Wright admits she was shocked by what some six- and seven-year olds revealed: “The majority of children [I saw] have seen pornography and will describe it to you. I find it shocking that the experience of these very little children has not come to light.”
The play also covers sexting and queer identity, with some LGBT children explaining to the researchers that they found porn educational. The title is a reference to the sort of question any child might Google in all innocence, yet which might find them casually exposed to pornography instead.
Initial funding was raised through crowdsourcing, with support from many well-known names in theatre including Gemma Arterton, Lindsay Duncan and Dawn French. Oscar-winning actor Emma Thompson has also supported the play and says: “I am so excited about this project. It is brilliantly, vitally timely. Who isn’t worried about the effects of such easily accessed porn on this generation of kids? Attaching it to discussions about love and connection is a masterstroke. I urge everyone to get behind it. It will help with so many mental-health issues and could save lives. Bravo.”
Wright hopes to tour a smaller version of the show and plans to hold workshops with 25 theatres around the country. “There are always dangers in the world for children,” Wright said, “but somehow empowering them and giving them the tools to navigate those dangers in a very positive way seems like quite a hopeful thing.”
Why is the Sky Blue? (Or How to Make Slime) is at Southwark Playhouse, London, until 19 May. Box office: 020 7407 0234