Sara Rees immerses herself back in the events of 2005 in her review of an “exhilarating and visceral experience”, Waking Exploits’ 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.
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-
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 –
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-
Pornography continues at Chapter until 28th April and tours to venues across Wales until 19th May. Visit www.wakingexploits.co.uk for details.
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Sara Rees is a regular contributor to Wales Arts Review.