It is more than understandable that feminists, particularly those with affection for the work of Andrea Dworkin, might have expected to be- at least- a little offended by this performance. How pleasant it is to be proved wrong. Bissett delicately balances reminiscences of his own life, man and boy, with readings from the work of Andrea Dworkin (in his interpretation of her voice). His sense of timing is acute and his powers of observation deadly as he segways between his “male narrative” and that of Dworkin. As a whole the structure, content and performance displayed a surprising sensitivity.
Bissett does not shy away from less flattering portrayals of men (for example sexual coercion to the soundtrack of “Whole Lotta Love”). By the time that Dworkin’s words “The only thing that makes it possible for them to unite is the erotic destruction of women” have been spoken, followed by Bissett’s explanation of the “swearing ladder”, one realises that Bissett is actually proving Dworkin’s point. The selection and performance of Dworkin’s work was insightful and moving. “Show your working” Bissett says “Who is that woman? What’s her name, what’s her real name…we don’t know who any of them are. All that matters was that it got me hard.” His portrayal of self- realisation, his blow-by-blow description, as it were, of a porn film; head down, eyes closed, ending just before the final shot, his eyes opening with the exclamation “I just watched that”, tones of self-disgust, leaving the audience in silence. Emerging from the floor, after rooting around like a pig, Bissett stands, now as himself; no longer divided between the two narratives, with a copy of Pornography: Men Possessing Women in his hands. “She sounded,” he tells the audience, “like an old-testament prophet, raging in the wilderness. I could feel myself being released from being male”. The profundity of that first contact with Dworkin will not have been lost on many audience members. Nor will the experience of the controversy surrounding Dworkin, which Bissett introduces via the devices of Twitter and the help of two actresses seated amongst the audience. Bissett truly chose to bite the bullet by not letting his show end on this open note.
The audience, on entry, had been presented with flyers with the disclaimer: “WARNING: THE SHOW MAY CONTAIN MALE NUDITY”. Bissett now asked the audience to vote on whether they would like to see said nudity. Despite the fact that the majority voted no, Bissett began his strip. “If the majority of you voted against it and I’m doing it anyway- who has the power, the watcher or the watched?”
Having stripped to just his underpants, Bissett paused,“If I was to be naked in front of you, what would that mean? I’d still be male. No matter how vulnerable I make myself it’s not the same.”
There was utter silence as he redressed.
Bissett closes with his final defence of Dworkin, returning to the Dworkin persona to cite her on Bessie Smith. “She was going to sing that song despite what you thought”, he quotes from Dworkin. The connection between these two women through that statement should not be lost on anyone. Neither should the sad irony of the selection of Smith’s song “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” to play the performance out.
This show is a bit like feminism lite, with a sting in its tail. It will be far more accessible to a greater number of people in no small part because it is performed by a man, something which might be considered unfortunate in that it may take a man to make Dworkin accessible to many people. However it has its own advantages. Precisely because it is a man that is advocating so strongly for Dworkin, the show packs a punch. “Ban this Filth” cannot be recommended highly enough, not only to Dworkin’s fans, but also her detractors. This show might just change their minds.