The Coolidge Effect – Audio Play

During the Corona virus pandemic, an enterprising step has been taken by the young Glasgow theatre company, Wonder Fools. It takes the form of a new audio version of the play The Coolidge Effect that they toured extensively across the UK throughout 2016-2019 when it was seen in theatres, schools and by youth groups. This new version seeks to connect and continue the conversation in a different way. 

Without having seen the stage version, it’s impossible to say how the new audio version works by comparison. However, what is certain is that this audio version works very well in its own right. It takes the form of a devised work based on interviews with porn advocates, addicts, mental health experts and scientists, with the main narrator being one of the writers, Robbie Gordon. A bespoke soundscape from composers and Wonder Fools collaborators VanIves, creates both a subtle yet strong audio backdrop to the compelling script co-written by Jack Nurse, who also directs.

The pervasive presence of pornography is exposed through the narratives of single Dad Gary and the son George that he only sees during increasingly awkward weekend visits; porn producer Gail then an ex-porn addict who goes under the name of Retrospect.   These characters are voiced admirably by Robbie Gordon and Jamie Marie Leary.  

An experiment on rats by Frank A. Beach that took place in 1955 found that sex with a variety of partners made for stimulus that waned under monogamy and was given the name of the Coolidge effect by Beach when he heard that in 1924, President Calvin Coolidge and his wife had made a cryptic comment after witnessing a randy rooster and a variety of chickens. Interesting enough, but the main point of the play is the danger of the easy, affordable accessibility of pornography, likening it to the ethics of using cheap High Street shops that offer the illusion of choice at the expense of poor employees, mostly women, working in clothing factories. 

The alarming fact of the age of 12, and age when a boy may ‘not [be] old enough to swim in the deep end’, is the average starting age for viewing porn. Add to that the information that the volume of viewers is more than Netflix, Amazon and Twitter combined and you have a social landscape of young women being objectified in a highly dangerous way.

Wonder Fools is a company made up mainly of young men so it is especially to their credit that they are electing to throw this sinister subject in to the light through an excellent piece of audio theatre. It brings to mind Vanishing Point’s  memorable 2012 production Wonderlandthat alsolooked at the issues of pornography on the internet and their effects in modern life. 

The Coolidge Effect seeks to break the tacit acceptance of the insidious use of pornography in our society and open the conversation particularly among young people among whom it has become an uncomfortable norm.

“A constant craving for variety can take you places where you don’t want to go”

The Coolidge Effect,thathas the theme of social isolation and the impact of the addiction to pornography on mental health, is part of Wonder Fools 2020 Season Stories to Connect Us (see Radio Summerhall Arts June 2020). It is available for download from Tuesday July 28 until Saturday October 31.

Running time: 55mins

Irene Brown

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