ELI BOND enjoys Pornography despite some directing issues.
ADC Theatre, February 26th-March 1st, 11 PM, £6/5.
“They’re hardly going to be showing hard-core content in the ADC are they, you muppet?!” The boyfriend at whom this comment was levied had clearly yet to be introduced to the dynamic, sensitive, political work that is Simon Stephens’ Pornography.
Since its first performance at the Traverse theatre in 2007 Pornography has been hugely popular and keen drama festival goers will have no doubt seen the production in many guises at the Edinburgh fringe and Scarborough’s National Student Drama Festival where it has headlined two years running. With this much attention any director attempting to put on ‘yet another version’ has serious balls! Pornography places its audience in the heady buzz of London, September 2007 and captures Britain as it unravels reeling from the euphoria and promise of the 2012 Olympic announcement into the devastation of 7/7. It’s warm fuzzy feelings, with dark humour and modern consumerist horrors jumbled together in an icky human cocktail that’s just a bit too close for comfort.
The play is made up of monologues and duologues which each provide intimate insight into the lives of painfully real Londoners leading up to the tragedy. Stephens explicitly gives permission for a director to cut, splice and manipulate these playlets into whatever tapestry they want but disappointingly this invitation was not taken up. To perform monologues of this length straight is a bold move but unfortunately one that I feel didn’t pay off. The play is designed to be fractured so that we are given little insights into the different storylines that gradually reveal more and more thus to perform each story in full made the piece feel chunky and a little laboured. This in combination with slow transitions, a dull monochromatic colour scheme incongruous with the vibrancy of the London people and a slightly confused convention regarding the actors’ interaction with each other meant that overall directorial decisions weren’t clear.
Amazingly, astonishingly in fact, despite what might be deemed considerable directorial issues these criticisms felt almost negligible in light of the individual acting performances which were by contrast truthful, committed and utterly invested in. The delinquent teenage Jason’s violent infatuation with his teacher was harrowing, the old woman’s anger at our technology dominant, material obsessions were frighteningly real. The sexual tension between the lecturer and his ex-student was as frustrating for the audience as the characters and despite having seen the play a million times I just kept thinking “please, please shag him!” The mother blowing raspberries on her baby’s tummy made us feel genuinely broody and the brave decision to re-work the central relationship as a lesbian romance added an original element to the pain of their taboo and their feelings of shame and desire in equal measure.
The whole cast should be congratulated; it was naturalistic acting at its best. As an audience we were hustled onto Simon Stephens’ emotional and thought provoking London commute and such successful theatrical exploration of the human condition is not to be missed.