BOTH sexual empowerment and sexual liberation lie at the heart of The Censor, a powerful play written 22 years ago by Anthony Neilson and now getting a deserved revival at The Hope Theatre in London’s Islington. It makes for compelling – and sometimes uncomfortable – viewing.
The play’s pulse is Frank (Jonathan McGarrity), a dour film censor who spends his working days in the basement of the censor’s offices – the ‘shit hole’ – methodically watching pornographic films and assessing whether they should be approved for release. It’s a robotic tick-box task – 18.03 minutes: erection; 19.18 minutes: masturbation; 22:30 minutes: penetration; et al – the equivalent of pornographic accountancy.
It’s a job that carries little cache – he’s shunned in the work canteen – while the relationship with his wife (Chandrika Chevli) at home is strained to say the least. She’s his antithesis – a lover of life, people and extra-marital affairs (someone called David looms large in her life).
Into the censor’s lonely lair roars a simmering Miss Fontaine (Suzy Whitefield) who is desperate for her pornographic film to be approved. The smouldering Fontaine is also his antithesis – chalk and cheese again – and she is quite happy to do literally anything to get her film released. She strips down to her bra and she grabs his talcum powdered nether regions as if they’ve just met in a Magaluf discotheque after a night on the sangria.
Over the next 70 minutes, the censor’s mask starts cracking as the beguiling Fontaine puts him under her spell. He becomes infatuated by her, revealing his difficult home life and the sexual gremlins that haunt him. She releases him from his sexual frustrations – with one scene involving Fontaine doing a certain toilet act while the censor pleasures himself being particularly cathartic for Frank (for the viewer it is a little galling to watch).
Simultaneously, Fontaine also urges Frank to see her film in an altogether new light – to search for the story beyond the pornography. Indeed, she believes films like hers should be mainstream and not end up rejected by the censor. They would, she says, make for a better world devoid of sexual repression, guilt or shame.
Will Frank heed her urgings? Won’t he? She is mercurial. In his face and pants (quite literally) one moment. The next, gone like a butterfly.
It all ends tragically for one of the two main characters. For the other, there is enlightenment. There’s also a twist or two at the end.
The Censor is a powerful advert for female sexual empowerment – and Whitefield and Chevli do not disappoint in delivering this message. Whitefield’s Fontaine is a cauldron of smouldering sex and manipulation. Chevli, flitting on and off stage, ensures the censor’s wife oozes self-confidence. McGarrity, a dead ringer (voice and looks) for the Bodyguard’s Richard Madden, skilfully depicts the sexual hang-ups that haunt many individuals and restrain them like sturdy dog leads.
Skilfully directed by Imogen Beech, and with both Ita O’Brien and Kate Lush justifying their inputs as intimacy supervisor and coordinator respectively, The Censor, a RoundPeg Theatre production, is well worth a peep. ‘18’ rated – and worthy of four stars (out of five) from Close-up Culture.
The Censor runs until July 13.