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Pornography

by on 18 November 2019

Lovingly Created, Meticulously Executed

Pornography

by Simon Stephens

Teddington Theatre Club at the Coward Studio, Hampton Hill Theatre until 23rd November

Review by Melissa Syversen

Ah, the details. The details! The sheer level of details in this production. It makes my dramaturgs heart happy just to think about it. If you are going to see Pornography, (this reviewer think that you should) playing at the Hampton Hill Theatre this week, do arrive early. That way you will have enough time to fully enjoy the incredibly high level of care put into each element of this production. Whether it be the tannoy announcements, the whiteboard at the top of the stairs or posters on the wall, it is all meticulously executed. Just look at the set: the team behind Pornography has brilliantly created a Circle line train carriage inside the Coward Studio. I don’t know who set designers Jenna Powell and Lizzie Lattimore had to bribe at TfL but everything is there, the tube line maps, the little blue stickers with info, the logos. Even the fastening at the bottom of the yellow poles is the same!

Prngy, 22 02 16

Gushing aside though; written by Simon Stephens, the story of Pornography takes place over roughly the week between the Live 8 Charity concerts that took place on 2nd July 2005 and leading up to the London terror attacks on 7th July 2005. I won’t go into too much details regarding the plot, but there are multiple narratives. We are introduced to Prngy, 20 36 29eight people: a pair of reunited siblings, a lonely widow, an angry schoolboy with a difficult home life, a former student and professor meeting for drinks, a working mum, and a man travelling into London from Manchester with a heavy rucksack. Pornography is not an easy watch. Its different stories and characters are all uncomfortable on multiple levels. I am unfamiliar with the original text by Stephens, but in the director’s notes in the programme, it says that it is written in seven blocks of text that each has a number between one and seven. There are no specifics regarding order or number of performers, it is a text that is malleable and encourages you to make it your own. As such I can only speak to the text as it has been cut and edited together in this specific production. Here the monologues and duologues each have a scene each in each act (the running time is about two hours with a twenty-minute interval) one going into the next. It flows nicely and even when characters jump around between different continuities within the scene, it rarely feels clunky. This is due to good blocking and effective use of Prngy, 21 07 12light. Some storylines feel more organic than others in this edit but they are all interesting on their own. The scenes and characters are introduced with fairly little exposition. It is a testament to the skill of the cast and creatives how quickly the audience picks up on unsettling or unnerving situations and the layers within the stories. The cast is all very good, though I will give a special mention to Mandy Stenhouse as a wonderfully realised and grounded Widow and Benjamin Buckley as the angry teenager Jason. They both bring an assured and specifically nuanced performance, with pitch-perfect energy.

Despite appearances, the events of 7th July are not so much the point of the story as they are the framework around it. is a play about people and a story about London. It has heightened elements, but what it boils down to is that we know these people. We know this London and we all know the situations the people in it find themselves in, regardless of the major event that is about to take place. It is a complex piece with its many themes and mountains of possibility within the text; and all of this is exceptionally well handled, with great sensitivity, by its director Josh Clarke. The staging of the story inside a Circle Line train carriage with the audience in a traverse, the mixture of CCTV style live-feeds, video clips, simple yet effective blocking of the action, all create a precise and cohesive piece of theatre. Even at the end, notice how the actors lay down their yellow cards. As with everything else in this production, the beauty is in the details. Originally written in 2005 as a response to the attacks and premiering in Germany, Pornography didn’t have its UK premiere until 2008 at the Traverse Theatre during the Edinburgh International Theatre Festival. I could easily see Clarke and his cast take this lovingly created production back up north to Edinburgh for the Fringe festival next year.

Melissa Syversen
November 2019

Photography by Dave Shortland and Rebecca Dowbiggin

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