Today I attended the end of term performance of ‘Pornography’ by Simon Stephens. Performed by ten drama students studying their craft at NCN Theatre Foundation. I enjoyed the complex play and once I discovered the thread of the story, it made sense.
In 2008 Dominic Cavendish reviewed the play. I have taken part of the interview within the review which give the writers explanation of the one act:-
‘The fictional suicide bomber in the play describes his journey from Manchester,’ says Stephens, ‘I was haunted by what the bombers were going through on that final day. It struck me that at the heart of their action was an alienation from the people they were going to kill and for themselves. This seemed to be symptomatic of a consumerist culture, which objectifies everyone and everything.’
Three further reviews guide a theatergoer to the intent of the play:-
’To call Simon Stephen’s Pornography specifically, a play about the July 7 bombings in London would be to do it a disservice. Though it deals with events leading up to the atrocities of the fateful day, this is a state of the nation play in the fullest sense. One which looks at what it means to be British today and the culture of displacement we live in with deep mourning.’ – Alan Chadwick, Metro (London), 5.8.08
‘Stephens, who has already written the best play of the year (Harper Regan, at the National) has come up with another cracker – one that searches for new forms to say new things. He observes his characters with an almost forensic detachment and yet he makes us love them, too. This is a play of grace and terror.’ – Lyn Gardner, Guardian, 5.8.08
‘In Simon Stephens new play the build up of everyday detritus of contemporary mass culture, from coffee brands to the disposable, detached sexuality of pornography, is insidious.’ – Steve Cramer, List, 7.8.08
You are right in asking what would qualify me to write an appraisal of this production? I have worked on many stage productions and hypnotised more than a few people for entertainment purposes. The most important fact is, I’m a three-decade theatregoer. When we (the audience) stand at the bar in the interval drinking our preordered vodka and tonics. We (the audience) know the circuit, the actors, the plays, the directors, we (the regulars) are the best critics of all. Conversations between ourselves at the interval bar nail the truth of the production. For what is is worth, the best performance I watched on stage was Kim Hartman as Sheila in Relatively Speaking at the Belgrade Theatre. She was utterly brilliant, delivery, stage presence, adoration of the audience, an evening never forgotten.
If I had researched the play before watching it, I would have enjoyed it far more. The program did fulfil this purpose, to my shame I did not read it thoroughly. Never mind, a lesson learned for the future ‘Ian alway read the programme.’ Because of my failure to read the production notes, the first fifteen minutes or so were confusing. I would like to watch it again now I fully understand the plot. Incidentally, there was one annoying facet to the stage set. The single main overhead light was poorly positioned toward the audience (it needed a diffusion baffle) and dazzled my eyes, the retina retention was flash bulb frustrating.
The Drama Faculty has to be commended for choosing a play which has a reputation for being gritty and controversial. An incestuous relationship, a student-teacher sexual encounter and a description of a possible assault of extreme and unpleasant nature are three instances of the remorseless content. Along with a copious quantity of expletives there is much to entertain the open-minded audience. And no doubt, even in this acclimatised world, there is plenty to offend. No problem for me, the richness of the content made for excellent entertainment.
The victims of the London bombing are remembered in an interesting way. There are three or four instances where the cast lists the victims by number, name and factual information of their lives, and anecdotes about their last and fatal journeys which ended in the terror of the murderous explosions.
The ten actors complemented each other very well indeed. I feel this play worked in a special way with the players; I would call it wholesomeness, a superlative interaction of the script, actors and simplistic set. My goodness, the format keeps them on their toes and requires brain surgeon concentration. And while I did have a feeling four of the cast had developed slightly more stage presence, there was not a card width to separate the whole of the characters acting craft. The simplistic set and bravery in not giving the players a unified costume gave the production a blunt-bladed feel. We all sense a rusty edged knife is more sinister and equally as effective as the needle-sharp stiletto. The slight difference in the wardrobe achieved a feeling of ominous overtones. This is entertainment at its macabre best; it touches upon the depravity of the inhuman being. The power of lust overwhelming morals and social agreements. The madness evolved from injustice and anger derived from frustration with the establishment.
I would watch the production again like a shot. The two small observations, failing to read the program guide and the stage light, would have made an enormous difference to me. There is no criticism here; these two points are easy to miss. Sadly, this was a one-off, end of year show and upon reflection, I like it that way. I will keep my program and maybe I will look back in ten years and recognise one or two of the actor’s names as professional thespians. There would be no surprise if this were to be so, for a group of ten 17- 20 (?) year olds to put on such a sparkling performance is a wondrous achievement for all of the production.
I could see and feel the undoubted effort which all concerned had put into this play. All audiences recognise this, and as I watched the audience during the performance, not one was seen to be off centre. The cast had achieved the purpose of a well-executed play, the intention? To entertain and captivate. That is the magic of the stage, well done to you all. It may have been an end of term performance, as a theatre enthusiast, I deemed the play to be performed by professional actors.