Pornography

We enter the theatre to an uncanny feeling of aftermath. Something has happened. Something bad. Three actors stand on a starkly lit stage as if shipwrecked; disconnected, dazed but still speaking, like the static at the end of a record that keeps going round. Small torn pieces of paper are strewn everywhere. There is a stage platform set back in the space, framed by a proscenium arch, in front of which are two microphones, positioned as if for a formal public address. Suddenly we are struck by two blinding lights, and a flurry of paper debris fluttering down through the air. This is an arresting start to what unfolds as an utterly compelling piece of theatre.

Pornography Waking Exploits review
Pornography
By Simon Stephens
Waking Exploits
Directed by Mathilde Lopez

The play captures the extraordinary 24 hours in July 2005 when London went from riding high on the announcement of winning the Olympic bid to the horror and devastation wrought by the events of the following day. Written the same year, it wasn’t until 2008 that Simon Stephen’s play Pornography premiered in Britain. As one would expect from one of Britain’s leading contemporary playwrights, Stephen’s approach to form is experimental, his writing taut and poetic, his subjects provocative. He presents us with a vision of Britain as broken, dysfunctional, self-obsessed and alienated – qualities evocatively embodied by the staging, direction and acting in this bold production.

Its text written so that the play can be performed by fifty actors or by two, as decided by the particular director; here at Chapter, Mathilde Lopez has chosen to work with five, all of whom have captivating and commanding presence. Despite a relatively small cast we still have the feeling of a portrait or snapshot of a city, of lives at once intertwined and disconnected, embedded and dislocated, disparate and isolated. The play presents us with glimpses into the lives of this handful of characters in the time immediately preceding and following the 7/7 bombings.

So why do we begin with a feeling of aftermath? Because even before that terrible day in London, 7/7 had already happened, in the sense that the conditions in which something like that could happen already existed. The widespread outrage at the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the deep feeling of alienation – not only of the bombers – but of all of us living in the consumer society produced by Late Capitalism. Under the brilliant direction of Lopez, this endemic alienation at the heart of Stephen’s play comes across with brutal starkness. Lopez has taken the monologues and dialogues of the original play text and cut them into a series of jarring fragments. Everything’s falling apart, the ground is giving way, the sky falling down. Over the course of the play the set collapses – keels over, crashes to the floor; the stage disintegrates into a group of islands.

Waking Exploits’ stated mission is to bring the best of contemporary playwrights to audiences in Wales, often for the first time. Their aim is to make theatre that is high quality, relevant, thought provoking, innovative, and exciting – all of which they certainly deliver, marking out a distinctive niche for themselves in Wales’ already thriving theatre scene. Despite the darkness of the subject matter, Pornogrphy is an exhilarating and visceral experience, with unexpected moments of humour; it also affirms the power of theatre to confront us with our own humanity, in all our fucked-up-ness, and reminds us that without forgiveness the world would be a desperately bleak place.

Pornography continues at Chapter until 28th April and tours to venues across Wales until 19th May. Visit www.wakingexploits.co.uk for details.