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Virgin Territory review at the Place, London ★★★★

By Sanjoy Roy

The Guardian, 6 November 2016

We’re seated around all sides of an onstage lawn on which eight performers – four adults, four young teenagers – romp like puppies. Cute. One of the grownups (male) ends up bantering into a microphone; another (female) teeters silently by in stilettos, blonde wig and babydoll dress. Cute? Virgin Territory is Charlotte Vincent’s brave, uneven and unnerving exploration of the sexualised imagery mobilised by smartphones and circulated inside classrooms and across continents, of the gendered currents of power beneath them, and the effect this has on children entering adulthood.

Some scenes are high-spirited, some are comic – such as a maiden and troubadour groping breast and crotch as elegantly as if plucking lutes – but more often Vincent leans towards the grotesque and the dangerous. There is plenty of bump-and-grind posing, with breasts and buttocks swollen by balloons (particularly unsettling to see on the kids). A girl with a cameraphone attracts a stalker who, chillingly, gives her the attention she seeks through social media: he “follows” her online and “likes” all her pictures. Pulling no punches, Vincent rightly also deals with rape (no children onstage though), which she handles sensitively but unflinchingly, first by desexualising it in order to reveal the power dynamic, and second by focusing on the trauma of its aftermath.

It’s a shame the work is overlong, with some scenes as distended as those balloons. Yet if editing would make for a better piece, that’s not Vincent’s ultimate aim. Her aim – as is clear when a lone young girl looks fearfully around her, as if the audience itself were dark with dangers – is us.