blackpill

BATS Theatre, Studio, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

05/03/2024 - 09/03/2024

NZ Fringe Festival 2024

Production Details


Written and directed by Rachel McLean

Toi Factory


“Of course we’re not “entitled” to sex, but we want it. Why wouldn’t some of us feel the need to resort to violence or misogyny?”

blackpill is a verbatim solo play by writer/director Rachel McLean, performed by Sean Burnett Dugdale-Martin. It is found in the forums where incels (involuntary celibates) preach their dogmatic ideology, express profound hatred for women, and share their own pervasive loneliness.

Darkly funny, occasionally disturbing, and so unbelievable it could only be real, blackpill pulls back the curtain and breaks down the pipeline from online extremism to real-world terror. The play asks how we reckon with the existence of these communities, their allure to young men, the pathways to deradicalization, and contemplates whether we can bring those ensnared by incel ideology back into society.

Tuesday 5 March – Saturday 9 March, 9pm
BATS Theatre – The Studio, 1 Kent Terrace, Mount Victoria, Wellington
Duration 40 minutes
Price General Admission $22.00 Concession $18.00 Fringe Addict 2024 $18.00 Group 6+ $20.00 Ticket + 5 $27.00 Ticket + 10 $32.00
https://fringe.co.nz/show/blackpill


Performer Sean Burnett Dugdale-Martin
Production Manager Tasman Hughes
Intimacy Coordinator Angela Pelham
AV & Graphic Design MIchiel van Echten
Costume Design Salomé Grace
Set Design Sam Hearps


Theatre , Verbatim , Solo ,


40 minutes

May be hard to swallow but raises our consciousness of an insidious condition that needs to be addressed

Review by John Smythe 07th Mar 2024

Writer/director Rachel McLean has hung out in incel chatrooms-cum-online forums so we don’t have to. Instead we only need – if we so choose – to engage with the verbatim content she has gleaned, collated and fashioned into a one hour solo play. It’s ‘in development’, by the way, and has requested this review.

A projection on the rear wall of BATS Studio in the preset defines an incel as “an involuntary celibate man [who is] willing and physically able to engage in sexual relations but is unable to find a partner.” (See the footnote for the Merriam-Webster definition and further info about the term.)

The setting, designed by Sam Hearps, is a desk covered in screwed up tissues, crushed drink cans and used food wrappings within which a computer screen nestles. Intriguingly a naked and somewhat distressed motherboard droops from the front of the desk – a sterile yet resonant piece of symbolism.

Actor Sean Burnett Dugdale-Martin is tasked not only with speaking the verbatim text McLean has assembled but also with allowing the diverse range of observations, shared feeling and opinions to inhabit his physical being. He doesn’t morph into various characters so much as become the ‘every-incel’ conduit for McLean’s selections. I’m initially surprised to note that an Intimacy Coordinator, Angela Pelham, is part of the production team, until I realise even a solo actor and writer/director need to ensure that what he is being asked to do feels safe and consensual.

As the show begins, a video montage, created by AV & Graphic Designer Michiel van Echten, treats us to a reminder that copulation is rampant in the natural world; that given procreation is a survival instinct, not ‘doing your bit’ (or ‘getting your bit’?) may therefore be seen as unnatural. Are these images what our Incel is whacking off to, or is he watching more conventional porn? Either way there is poignancy as well as comedy in observing the tissue-wrangling aftermath and his breathless and pantless demeanour.

His sudden launch into a dissertation on the rise and demise of Joan of Arc is unexpected until its graphic descriptions and bizarre assertions, backed by Sigmund Freud no less, take us to the edge of the misogynistic quagmire we’re destined to traverse. Another new word enters the lexicon – foid: a derogatory term for female humanoid.

Chat topics encountered include the prevalence of sex in the media, feelings of entitlement, suicidal ideation, statistical analysis that questions the link between black pill ideology and mass shootings, and the way Red Pill (from The Matrix) feeds belief in male supremacy (see Footnote link to ‘Red Pill to Black Pill’). There is a section on how to MAXX your looks and assertions about what tattoos may prove. A Code of Conduct for Masculinity urges followers to do things for themselves “without the naïve delusion that this will get me laid”.

Comments from a man who has never had a girlfriend and admits he needs help are met with responses that prove how easily vulnerable guys can be led towards dangerous levels of misogyny and/or self-defeating beliefs and practises. “Is it possible to stop being an incel?” is the question we are left with.

Theatrically blackpill is an impressive feat and congratulations are due to Rachel McLean, Sean Burnett Dugdale-Martin and the rest of the team. In production it lives up to its promo line: “Darkly funny, occasionally disturbing, and so unbelievable it could only be real.” Despite Dugdale-Martin’s compelling performance, rather than filtering the material through a single incel persona, I wonder if it would benefit from a cast of three interacting from their respective states of isolation through a range of characterisations.

The production blurb concludes, “The play asks how we reckon with the existence of these communities, their allure to young men, the paths to deradicalization, and contemplates whether we can — or even should — welcome those ensnared by incel ideology back into society.”

That is a fair summation of the social dilemma embedded in the play. Systems exist for overcoming addiction, deprogramming from a cult, rehabilitating from criminal behaviour … Where do we start to address incel and black pill ideology and who could/would/should take it on? If treatment programmes already exist, a show like this could point us towards them.

As it stands, blackpill may be hard to swallow but raises our consciousness of an insidious condition that needs to be addressed, as I see it anyway, with compassion and rigour.

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Footnotes

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines an incel as:

a person (usually a man) who regards himself or herself as being involuntarily celibate and typically expresses extreme resentment and hostility toward those who are sexually active.

“The term ‘incels’ emerged from a Reddit group in which tens of thousands of users, most of them young men, commiserate about their lack of sexual activity—many of them placing the blame on women. – —Josh O’Kane”

“In recent years, a number of these men have identified as so-called incels, short for involuntary celibates, an online subculture of men who express rage at women for denying them sex and who frequently fantasize about violence and celebrate mass shooters in their online discussion groups. – Julie Bosman et al.”

Wikipedia defines black pill as “a fatalist set of beliefs related to the incel ideology or the manosphere” and New America reveals its evolution in an article headed ‘Red Pill to Black Pill’.

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