Pornography

Wed 26th February – Sat 1st March 2014

reviews

Lewis Scott

at 01:56 on 27th Feb 2014

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There is something unusual about each of the characters in this play – whether it be incestuous sisters or octogenarian porn-addicts – but the actors have such a natural flair and talent that even these outlandish characters seem real. We can believe that these people really exist and the acting performances must be applauded. The stage is almost bare – the show is completely driven by its actors and, despite a few poor technical decisions, the actors produce something which is both strangely disorientating but intensely human.

The show is composed in long sections of disconnected narrative and opens with a lengthy monologue by Lauren Brown which oscillates regularly between gentle comedy and an awful sadness that her performance conveyed perfectly, it was at times hard to watch and I, much like the character, didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry. It was one of the most impressive performances of the entire show. It’s disorientating to be brought to the edge of tears and to then have a laugh pulled out of you. It’s a subtle manipulation that is extremely strange to experience but expertly performed. Harry Gower’s performance as a student infatuated with his teacher takes us in a distinctly darker direction but his acting is so nuanced that his potentially awkward development (from harmless teenager with a crush to an aggressive and terrifying man) is natural and seems even inevitable. We fear and pity this character and Gower must be applauded on his ability to transmit that conflict of emotion.

Tom Stuchfield and Kassi Chalk create an awkwardness in their segment that is so delicate and perfect that you can’t help but be drawn in to their “date”. It’s funny and human and stands out as a moment of normality against the backdrop of the surreal events of 7/7. Laura Waldren and Lily Lindon’s section is difficult to watch because of the intensity of the acting – it’s the first moment we get where the actors speak to each other and not directly to the audience and that somehow only increases its power and makes the proceedings seem more awful than they actually are. Some of the intensity is, however, damaged by blackouts that last too long and break up the pace far too much.

The star performance, however, belongs to Megan Henson. She is incredibly funny in her role and creates a nuanced and developed character. Her physicality is incredible and it is at times hard to believe that she isn’t in fact an OAP. Her ability to instantly switch into different tones means that we as the audience are constantly required to question ourselves on the treatment of older people and the isolation they experience as a direct product of the expectations we place on them. Henson deserves all the praise she will undoubtedly receive.

I’m still not sure how I felt about the backdrop of the 7/7 bombings, it’s unsettling and you find yourself laughing at things that aren’t funny and then feeling bad about it, this effect is the product of some phenomenal acting but the quality of the production at times lets the show down. Transitions are slow and the regular over-long blackouts break the tension and emotion created by the actors. Some of the props also feel like they could have had a little bit more effort put into them – the reports and the glasses of Merlot come to mind. Nevertheless, this feat of acting is something to behold and deserved a much larger audience than it received on its opening night and I wish them luck for the rest of the run.

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Jodie Coates

at 10:02 on 27th Feb 2014

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With a title of ‘Pornography’, the promise of 7/7 bombing references and a collection of abandoned rucksacks lined across the front of the stage – I must admit I was readying myself, pre-performance, to an evening steered towards shocking ‘taboo’ subject matter thrust upon the audience with a singular aim to prompt an emotional reaction. Instead, I found myself presented with something quite unexpected and wholly refreshing. I did not leave the theatre emotionally strained, but simply reflective of human nature, the complexity of relationships and the various instinctive responses to destruction. This highly talented ensemble tackled such heavy themes excellently, by accentuating the message through strong characterisation and a passionate assortment of monologues and duologues, accumulating in a very thought-provoking end.

The quality of acting in this student-cast play was consistently high, with each member attentive and expressive from open to close. As a series of short, fragmented stories, a sense of ensemble could easily have been lost. However, Skipsey’s, perhaps brave, decision to keep the full cast on stage throughout helped to retain focus on the action of the scene and also offered some interesting interaction opportunities. The slight problem I found with this was that the actors occasionally seemed confused about whether they should be addressing each other, the audience, or an invisible other. In some cases this worked to great effect – some of the more intimate scenes, notably internalised, created a sense of closeness whereas, in contrast, cases of direct audience address as the actors stepped over the ‘yellow line’ tape commanded attention. Yet, other times, particularly in the first monologue, I found the orientation of address was slightly off-balance and too varied, so that it was noticeable and distracting – though as the play progressed, this thankfully disappeared and I became fully absorbed in the tales each character had to tell.

The opening of the play was presented well as the actors built up a crescendo of overlapped lines, transporting the audience into the thundering rhythm of London. Although somewhat chaotic, this sequence was well controlled, with the occasional word or phrase breaking through the noise - a promising indication that the ensemble could comfortably work with each other. This set-up was returned to later on in the performance when the whole cast, each donning a backpack, became involved in telling the journey of the 7/7 bombers. However, I found myself a little disappointed when the actors mimed being on a bus, or simply walked around the space to show their progress through London – I couldn't help thinking that a more original touch or perhaps symbolic approach might have been useful here to make a more hard-hitting and less trivial scene.

Ensemble aside, the individual performances were all to be commended and there was no one who disappointed in terms of projecting their stories. However, it was the two duologues amidst the chaos that really stood out for me. The development of Laura Waldren and Lily Lindon’s incestuous love affair was carefully handled, exploring the humiliation, passion, innocence and pain of such a situation within a few short scenes. It was an interesting casting decision to have sisters, instead of a brother-sister set up, falling in love - but not one that I think warped the dynamic of the relationship. If anything, it added another layer of tension and conflict, especially as these two female characters were at polar opposites in terms of personality and physicality. Similarly, Kassi Chalk and Tom Stuchfield created two very realistic, well-defined characters that clashed and grew during a quite disturbing story arc. They responded so naturally to each other, threading in some dark humour but also a desperation as both characters sought stability in their lives, Chalk for career prospects and Stutchfield a desire to abate his loneliness. These two scenes were in stark contrast to the singular character development found in the monologues ranging from the intimidating, violent teenager played by Harry Gower, to the distracted and downtrodden mother performed by Lauren Brown and eventually the highly comical, yet equally pitiful elderly woman played by Megan Henson. There was a whole wealth of characters to enjoy and I eagerly awaited each story as they play went on.

Overall, this play was thoroughly engaging, entertaining and thought-provoking – yet not overwhelming in emotion. It demands nothing from the audience but to observe, to judge and to consider the magnitude of human disasters both big and small, external and internal. It is definitely one to watch, even if it is not at all what I expected – go and book your tickets now!

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