Venue: The Drama Barn
Of all the questions Pornography asks about our contemporary life, none will stand out in your mind as much as the one that rears its head throughout the play, and too often goes unanswered: “Are you laughing, or are you crying?” Asked by or of almost all of the characters in DramaSoc’s latest production, the question is an appropriate one, as although the full spectrum of human emotion is on show in this week’s play, it tends to swing on a pendulum, between the extremes of elation, and desperate, nauseating rage. Pornography is a powerful piece of theatre, and an unconventional one. As a promenade piece, the format of the play allows the audience to wander between several simultaneous performances, carefully constructed vignettes, scattered across the Drama-Barn.
For all the play’s social commentary, Drama-Soc have succeeded not by staging an elaborate philosophical discussion, but in telling stories that the audience cannot help but get completely lost in.
In one corner, Kell Chambers is frighteningly convincing as he grunts and spits his way through the twisted mind of Jason, an angry and sexually disturbed teen. Chambers’s performance is full of emotional nuances that contrast Jason’s singularly narrow worldview, and allow you to feel a great deal of sympathy for him, despite his fixation with Pakistani immigrants, gypsies, his teacher Lisa, and the infamous führer. He is preceded by Martha Owen’s heart-breaking soliloquy, delivered as a mother desperately looking for a more optimistic perspective on her life, while across from her, George Rayson and Katie Sharp bring to life the unconventional relationship between a brother and sister. Causally unrelated, these stories and many more besides create a picture of London in the recent past, set against the backdrop of the successful London 2012 Olympic bid, and the 7/7 bombings that shook the city the very next day. Each story is has its own unique tone, but all are subtly underpinned by the common themes of family, sex, and emotional fragility.
Every performance is stunning, unnervingly so. Angus Bower-Brown and Hannah Eggleton create a rapport between a lecturer and one of his former students that makes the presence of the audience feel intrusive. This feeling of intrusion, an unsettling atmosphere of the voyeuristic grows out of the convincing work of the actors, and the fact that you watch while stood beside them, caught under the same coloured lights that they perform under. Not only do you watch them act, but they get to watch you react. At no point is this format tested more than during Maya Mughal’s stand-out performance as an observant, witty, and isolated widow, fixated with the war in Iraq and on-line pornography. So enjoyable is her speech that any attempts to hide your reactions are abandoned in place of hysterical laughter. At the same time, however, the intimacy with which we get to know this old woman is unsettling, as it is for the rest of the play’s characters.
The desperation on show, the pain, and loneliness, and sexual fury offered to the audience all provide material to compare and contrast with the play’s much calmer ending. Here the focus shifts to a sinister journey made by unnamed characters towards London. The implication here is clearer than ever before; we are now inside the minds of the terrorists who attacked London on 7th July, 2005. Through elegant character study the audience has been given what it needs to understand the unspoken motives of our implied murders. Of course, given the subject matter, good luck with that.
Pornography, offers artistic material for deep, productive thought about the struggles of modernity, and how it is that human beings do unspeakable things, but more importantly than that, it is utterly compelling. For all the play’s social commentary, Drama-Soc have succeeded not by staging an elaborate philosophical discussion, but in telling stories that the audience cannot help but get completely lost in. The focus of Pornography is on how we can make sense of human experience. The triumph of this play is that it focuses not on the various attempts we can make to understand, but on the experience itself, in all its raw, emotional instability.