EFR - Reviews of Pornography

Pornography

Tue 21st – Sat 25th August 2012

reviews

Rachel Cunliffe

at 01:39 on 22nd Aug 2012

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Let me first make clear that ‘Pornography’, Simon Stephens’ brave play about the London 7/7 bombings, has absolutely nothing to do with porn, as I’m sure you’ll be relieved/disappointed to hear. The play is indisputably a work of genius, leading the audience through Live 8, the Olympic bid, and the attack through the eyes of eight ordinary people. If you haven’t seen it, I would recommend this production on the merits of the script alone. It’s a play everyone who remembers what happened should see at least once.

As for this particularly production, it is very much a show of three parts. Conor Mannion begins as Jason, a disillusioned adolescent in a failing school, whose understanding of these events is set against the backdrop of his frustration and barely-concealed fury at the world. Mannion is fantastic, switching mood and pace with exceptional fluidity, and at once both a sympathetic teenager and a chilling example of a nationwide problem. His monologue is supported by tightly-choreographed ensemble pieces, which are original and dynamic. I particularly loved the anonymity created by ingenious use of newspapers, and all the crowd scenes on the Underground. The first fifteen minutes are worth five stars.

Unfortunately, not all the scenes are as compelling to watch as Mannion’s. Harrison Smith and Daisy Bata begin well, as an awkward professor and his sexy ex-student, but they don’t quite manage to maintain the tension, and though they have good comic rapport the darker moments of this episode fall flat. There are similar problems with Matt Wright and Zoe Templeman-Young as a dysfunctional brother and sister – again, the scene starts promisingly, but fails to make much impact at the crucial moments. Charlotte Christie, who plays a struggling mother, is particularly disappointing. She is able to portray anxiety, but little else, and her performance lacks variation, whether she is stressed about where her husband has been or fantasising about taking her baby on a plane. By this point in the play, the intensity built up by Mannion has disappeared completely.

It is saved, however, by the final monologue. Ken Nwosu is brilliant: one moment a loving father wondering where he can get an almond croissant, the next a dedicated and utterly committed activist. Both his working-class accent and the conspiratorial way in which he talks to the audience invite them to see him as an ordinary guy, doing what he thinks is best in a world he cannot accept. The humanity of his character shines through, and that is terrifying.

All the ensemble scenes and stylised choreography are precise and expressive, and the lighting works beautifully. The ending is incredibly emotional, especially after Nwosu’s performance, and I found myself trying not to cry in the final moments, such is the impact of Stephens’ script. However, the weaker performances in the middle prevent me from giving the higher rating which the beginning and end deserve. As I said, it is important that people see this play. I urge you to go, and make up your own minds.

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Ella Griffiths

at 04:32 on 22nd Aug 2012

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It’s not often that you arrive at the box office asking for a ticket to see pornography. By dissecting our obsession with consumerist objectification, even the title of Simon Stephens’ 2007 play raises provocative questions about modern culture, offering an early indication of the gritty and fractured content. Rooted in the specific events of July 2005, the fleeting elation of winning the Olympic bid and the excitement of Live 8 dissolve in the catastrophic reality of the London 7/7 bombings. Recognising the hyper-relevance of Stephens’ topical play in light of the recent Olympics, The Organised Crime Theatre Company have crafted an electrifying production embracing the chaotic individuals that form our society.

Illuminating the simultaneously isolated and connected state of urban humanity, director Dana Segal intersperses a selection of diverse monologues with the claustrophobic masses of a tube carriage. In a suitably fluid and intimate venue, the dramatic impact of the entwining stories reverberates with added vigour, while the stark lighting and jarring bursts of music capture a sense of dislocation and instability.

However, the most magnetic aspect of the production is the stunning quality of the cast, essential in vivifying the monologues. From the exquisitely complicated Jason (Conor Mannion), melding desperate masculine violence with fragile bravado, to Charlotte Christie as a humorously erratic yet tortured mother, every actor has a fantastically commanding stage presence. Analysing the minute shifts between distance and intimacy, Stephens explores the trivialities and boundaries of our culture, most acutely captured by the actors in a highly charged and transgressive relationship between siblings. As the British bomber magnetically depicted by Ken Nwosu begins to haunt the stage with his disillusioned yet painfully human perspective upon modern culture, fusing terror with banality in regard to his task, London begins to splinter. When the names of the dead are read from slips of paper in a genuinely moving fashion, the full weight of the tragedy and the reality of the city’s loss finally become cripplingly apparent.

This subtle examination of our society is raw, fresh and incisive, eschewing overly stylised and abstract theatre in favour of delving into the complex essence of humanity itself. In such a sensitive and moving production, Stephens’ play is given the opportunity to shine as a tragicomic masterpiece in the hands of an exceptionally talented cast.

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