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  • Phoebe Robertson

Review: blackpill

Updated: Mar 8

Content Warning: Misogyny, sexual content

Words by: Phoebe Robertson (she/her)

Before I watched this show I was warned it would ‘challenge me.' Naturally, a show about incel culture should not be easy to digest. However, as the show unfolded, I found myself facing a different kind of challenge than I had expected—one that tested my empathy and ability to connect with others.

As expected from the topic, the show's title, blackpill, is derived from the incel community, and its definition is essentially what the show presents. In short, the ‘blackpill ideology’ maintains that physical attractiveness is the most important factor in attracting women, and that certain physical and social factors are necessary for success.

The opening scene depicts an incel masturbating while watching animals fight, and later having sex to a remix with the lyrics 'I have a big dick'. It left me unsure whether absurdity or reality would drive the narrative. But eventually, I came to understand the carefully crafted structure of the story—moments of raw and sincere dialogue, interspersed with campy remixes.

The director had clearly put a lot of effort into making the content palatable to the audience while remaining true to the narrative. And for a show like this, using verbatim—dialogue lifted from life (in this case forums)—was definitely the best choice. What intrigued me most was observing the responses of the audience around me. When controversial topics were brought up in context with the show, some found it more humorous than real. They laughed as comments made by incels reducing women to their "cunts" and men to their physical attributes became absurdist tropes. It was funny, and it was intentionally positioned that way by script and directive choices (both credited to Rachel McLean). 

This review poses a big question: where is the line between humor and sincerity? Is it appropriate to laugh along with the audience when the actor says something crude, or should we hold ourselves back? It's hard not to think about how these are real thoughts from real people that have been plucked from online forums for the sake of entertainment.

Sean Burnett Dugdale-Martin exceptional acting was a strong point of the production. He portrayed his character with a sincerity and vulnerability that drew me in, and kept me engaged throughout the entire performance. The direction also added to the impact of his one-man show; Dugdale-Martin utilized every inch of BATS studio space, using only a desk with empty cans and tissues as props. He cleverly created a catwalk, hid under the table, acted out masturbating in his chair (skillfully concealed by the positioning and blocking of the desk, thanks to intimacy director Angela Pelham), and moved around the stage. Sean's background in clowning only enhanced his strong acting skills, allowing him to express himself through movement and body language during long moments of silence.

The most confronting moment for me was the ending, when the room became hot and the lights suddenly illuminated the audience. Dugdale-Martin looked directly at us, and I felt like we were being watched more voyeuristically than when we had witnessed him masturbating at the beginning of the show. As he posed the question “is there ever coming back from prolonged social isolation?” I couldn't help but feel personally confronted.

This theme is woven into the fabric of the entire performance—if someone is isolated from society due to their appearance, social class, or intelligence, where can they turn for human connection? This show delves into just one aspect of this issue, exploring how some lonely individuals may turn to internet rabbit holes as a means of finding some semblance of social interaction, even if it is within an echo chamber.

This show is not meant to leave you feeling happy, and it may not be suitable for all. Dugdale-Martin's performance sets it apart from others, with a well-written script and smooth directing (Rachel McLean) that elevates the overall performance. However, I must caution that it is not a show for everyone to consume safely. The concept of sympathizing with incels can be dangerous, whether it leads someone down a radical path or triggers traumatic experiences for those who have been directly harmed by these ideologies. As I left the show feeling conflicted, there was a moment where the characters addressed the notion of romanticizing incels, taken from an incel forum itself. This begs the question: is producing a show that elicits sympathy for incels ultimately just another form of romanticization? Or is it a clever tactic used by the director to challenge our perspectives and see beyond black and white? The answer remains unclear, but it has certainly left me deep in thought and proves the success of the piece.

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