When entering the Barron theatre to see Simon Stephen’s Pornography, I was unsure what to expect. I was familiar with the subject matter; the 7/7 bombings and London Olympic bid were relatively fresh in my memory, yet the shock factor of the title hinted at something deeper and darker than a retelling of the contemporary news stories. The play is a collection of monologues connecting the lives of 8 unrelated Londoners and their perspective of the turbulent social climate of 2012. While the play seemed to focus on these news events, darker themes such as racism, post-natal depression, incest and sexual assault to name but a few later emerged. Even the blurb of the play, ‘stand well clear of the yellow line’, gave little away in reference to the dark subject matter that was to come. We entered the theatre with a slight air of unease.

What followed was a dramatic merging of shock, dread and taboo set against the highly relatable background of London in 2012. Even from the offset, the audience were shocked by themes of racial hatred, particularly by Peter Swallow’s angst-ridden schoolboy character who opened the show with an array of slurs. The staging of the play perfectly reflected the idea of shocking abnormality mixed in with everyday life. The stage was surrounded by an audience on all sides and the actors mingled in with the crowd, watching the show alongside them. The skilful direction of Joanna Bowman and clever set design of Elizabeth Perry created a stage that reinforced the idea of taboo and threat living among us. The swift pace at which the actors sprung in and out of character when performing their monologues again created a sense of the inner demon which I found very captivating throughout the play.

While the dark subject matter of Pornography was interesting, what really made it stand out was the quality of acting across the entire cast. There was not one weak link, and every individual monologue was both captivating and thought-provoking. Tommy Rowe and Phoebe Soulon both gave very impressive performances especially taking into account the incestuous storyline they were faced with. Suzanna Swanson-Johnston was the stand out performer of the show, playing an elderly woman sinking into depression and loneliness. The sheer emotion that Johnston portrayed was very impressive, and I found her piece the most moving of the show, even though it did not rely on controversy and shock-factor as much as the others. Coco Claxton gave an impressive performance as well, playing a manic young mother struggling to cope with the pressures of her life. Overall, the high quality of acting gave the play depth and created a personal aspect to the heavy themes that were raised.

Although Pornography brought nothing particularly ground-breaking in its controversy, the way in which it was directed and acted created a very thought-provoking and hard hitting piece that captivates and enthrals from the very beginning. Pornography is a moving piece of theatre that is at once relatable and completely out with the norm. It was captivating from start to finish and the cast and crew pulled off a challenging piece in an excellent way.

4 stars

Photo Credit: Katie Brennan

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