His seventh play in four and a half years, Such Filthy F*cks tackles porn addiction through the medium of a complex relationship. Daniel Perks talks to Smoke & Oakum writer Oli Forsyth:

Don’t approach strangers on the high street and ask them about porn.

“I’ve learned not to do that”!

Playwright Oli Forsyth is discovering new things every day it seems.

But what is it that makes porn such a forbidden subject?

“It’s one of the remaining areas that it is truly uncomfortable to talk about. We often have conversations about what the porn industry is, and the exploitation of people in it, but what happens to people who watch an excessive amount of porn?

“Research has shown that a third of all internet traffic is porn, so everyone is doing it all the time and yet we don’t talk about it at all. We’re just starting to see the impact in places like Japan, where the sex rate is depleting massively, or in the West where erectile dysfunction is through the roof.”

Such Filthy F*cks VAULT Festival

Oli Forsyth (image courtesy of Cam Harle)

As one of the last truly taboo subjects, something everyone is partaking in and yet too embarrassed to openly discuss, it’s a prime target for Oli’s theatre company, Smoke & Oakum.

“I didn’t want to write a play that says porn is bad, I didn’t want to come down on one side of it. But when I got into the research of porn addicts talking about what it does to their lives, this narrowing of your world where all your emotional output goes into a computer or a phone, so the idea of enjoying someone is impossible…”

And so, Such Filthy F*cks was born. It’s play number seven in Oli’s writing legacy, the Smoke & Oakum dynasty. All written in the last four and a half years.

In 2018 alone, Oli penned four new productions – Such Filthy F*cks premieres tonight at VAULT Festival 2019, another of his shows runs from June at a venue yet to be announced and two more works are written and ready to go.

Quite the year,

“Brilliant but also the weirdest and most lonely year of my life. I’m not cut out for being just a writer. You go slightly mad. You have conversations with yourself that are entirely fluid.”

That’s not surprising. Oli’s work is typically characterised by naturalistic dialogue, text that feels relatable and real, no matter the subject matter. His work to date seems to centre around topics that are considered taboo, ones that don’t easily open themselves up for discussion. Kings was about homelessness; Cornermen about the trappings of success in the boxing industry; Happy Dave about rave culture.

“No matter what I set out as an objective, I seem to always come back to a central story that just won’t leave me alone.

“No issue is an obvious one. That’s the purpose of research, the purpose of the work – to immerse yourself as someone else.”

Such Filthy F*cks VAULT Festival

Alice McCarthy & Luke Murphy (image courtesy of Cam Harle)

Such Filthy F*cks centres around the porn industry, and more specifically how this industry has affected our relationships with sex, intimacy and indeed each other. But it’s made relatable as a two-hander between Luka and Jules, a couple with differing views – healthy vs. addiction.

“You start to replace a fundamental natural instinct with a completely artificial, solo exercise. There’s something about the deprivation of something that’s quintessentially human and natural that I think is quite scary.

“Luka, the main character, finds porn an incredibly useful thing in her life – it allows her to do more. Everything else in the world, we’ve taken nature out of the equation. The sleeping pills we take to go to bed; the spray under your armpits; the radiator in your home; none of it’s natural, and it’s all better.

“So why not do the same with sex?

“Take the person out of it, make it solo and have it on your own terms, in your own way?

“Jules is someone who is much more troubled by what porn is doing to him. They meet by chance and in the conversation, they decide to try and give it up for a period of time, which is where the play takes place.”

Because it seems as though we substitute in the artificial language of porn for the reality of intimacy. Both release neurochemicals that feed us pleasure, but one is less imperfect, less flawed, less unpredictable. And in so doing, perhaps the concept of another person becomes an idea rather than something organic.

“Luka says, ‘I’ve got to this point where I can’t enjoy another person as much as I enjoy porn’.

“Certainly for the generation after us, that’s a much bigger threat – if you’ve got a phone… It’s a process of escalation that if it’s not talked about, you get sucked into so easily. The average age now is about 9 or 10 to first encounter porn.”

Such Filthy F*cks VAULT Festival

Alice McCarthy (image courtesy of Cam Harle)

But as Oli has already mentioned, there are two sides to every story. Maybe porn has actually played a vital role in our society’s sexual awakening, our modern-day culture that is less likely to define an individual according to a binary gender or sexually normative preferences,

“When porn first started coming out, it was almost 90% men watching. Now it’s closer to 60%. It’s no longer a gender imbalance of who gets to discover their sexual preferences in the comfort and privacy of their own home.

“There’re so many positives to being a sexually liberal society, one that doesn’t put sexuality on a pedestal and doesn’t put sexual discovery in a dangerous box.

“It’s fundamentally changing the way sex plays a role in our society.”

And so, to Such Filthy F*cks – a show takes this debate and puts it into the context of VAULT Festival 2019, an area where new writing and thematic discussion have reigned supreme this year. It’s a place that Smoke & Oakum can safely call home, as Cornermen and Kings both found their footing in previous years here,

“VAULT has always been heaven for making ideas, they’re so brave on taking new work.

“It is an unrestricted place where you can test out your weirdest ideas that allows you to find what is good and what is terrible about them”.

Such Filthy F*cks plays as part of VAULT Festival 2019 from 13 – 17 March 2019. For more information or to book tickets, please visit the venue website.