In the present climate of #MeToo it is easy to forget that there are predatory men who prey on other men, and this is the premise of Tom Ratcliffe’s hard-hitting piece of theatre, Velvet, which has transferred from the Edinburgh fringe to Vauxhall.
Our first thought when we enter the Studio space is that we are seeing the props of seduction, 21st-century style: a screen, a chaise longue, a floor set up like a chessboard. The character of “Tom” enters to canned applause to make a speech on his success … and the story begins.
Tom is a jobbing actor in fringe theatre “earning maybe three thousand a year”. His partner, Matthew, has a steady job outside of the business, money, and “an amazing dick”. It’s clear that Tom is a bit flirty, a bit up for a laugh, and when his agent suggests he uses Grindr as a marketing tool he steps into ever murkier waters.
Predatory producers and casting agents who prey on young females regularly make the headlines since the Weinstein scandal: less so those who manipulate young men who dream of stardom and have an air of desperation.
In Ratcliffe’s tale, there are two such manipulators. Damien is there in person, asking for a drink and a hook-up, no strings (but as we see, there are always strings). “Daniel” is a face on a screen issuing commands under the guise of the power of the life-changer.
The audience is present at every stage of the journey, a witness as the online chats go from standard pic-swapping teasing to something far more sinister. Tom the character is likeable and naive, and we want to stop his blundering into an area which will cause professional suicide.
Velvet is a powerful piece about one man’s survival from sexual harassment and abuse. With its squarely digital focus in that we never see “Daniel” (even suspecting at one point he may be Damien), the tale gains more power and empathy.
Stories of revenge porn, of the sharing of private pics and videos, now seem commonplace, and no less devastating than physical abuse. Velvet has an important message to deliver, with a powerful coda on the nature of online traction and celebrity.
Ratcliffe is a performer to watch for in the future. Velvet is directed by Andrew Twyman and continues at Above the Stag until 27 October – book at http://www.abovethestag.com/vxl/whatson/velvet/
Photo credits Lidia Crisafulli