Review: Pornography @ the Drama Barn

DramaSoc takes on Simon Stephens’s story this week with their edition of “Pornography”

The 7/7 London bombings of 2005 are undoubtedly one of the most tragic events of modern British history – a day that shocked the nation and altered British society irrevocably. To attempt a play surrounding the crisis is a brave move. The performance of Simon Stephens’s Pornography last night indeed provided a tasteful and thought-provoking tribute.

This production breaks from the norm in two key ways that do, in a sense, require a sort of warning. First, the piece is promenade theatre – that is to say that there are two scenes going on at once. To get the most out of the show implicitly requires you to move around during the performance with little opportunity to sit down, unless you want to miss out on certain parts. Whilst clever and ambitious, the spatial limitations of the Barn meant that to some extent the scenes overlapped and restricted the hearing of the other situations on show, no matter how well-timed.

 The audience is no longer a passive observer of the plot, but involved – a silent part of the cast and a moveable part of the set

Second, this production choice takes you from simply sitting in the audience to being on stage with the actors. The effect of this is undeniably moving: the audience is no longer a passive observer of the plot, but involved – a silent part of the cast and a moveable part of the set. This does admittedly provide an atmospheric twist: much like the co-habitants of the tube, the audience are strangers to the lives of the cast, yet thrust in close proximity to them. It must be added, however, that those of a sensitive disposition should be prepared to have their personal space invaded, the show holds nothing back in pervading and engaging the audience on an often deeply disturbing and intrusive level.

This is not to negate the atmosphere that this direction provides. The intrusion is not undeservedly uncomfortable, but a credit to the work of the actors who unanimously maintained an incredibly high standard. Due credit must in particular go to Maya Müghal whose monologue stole the show.

Her performance provided a welcome shift and brought a soulfully performed, simplistically genuine emotion to the production, which was a raw alternative to the somewhat surrealist aspects of the rest of the play. The portrayal of the inhabitants of London (not immediately affected by the bombings yet still impeded by them) was particularly apparent in her vivid and emotive performance. It exuded a feeling of loneliness that inevitably penetrates the independent traveller in London, enforcing the fatality of life that the bombings forced upon British society, yet in an everyday manner that we may never ordinarily notice.

 Simon Stephens’s Pornography is perhaps one of the Drama Barn’s most ambitious performances so far

Particularly effective was the writing of the cast on the wall during scenes. Silent and subtle, the sentences written by separate actors were individual memories and dedications to the fifty-two victims of the bombings. Indeed, the most emotive moment were the personal memorials. More than mere names on a paper or a statistic, they gave an identity and a voice to those who no longer had any, whilst the remainder of London could (as the scenes portray) continue living average lives with similar expectations and experiences of the time.

Simon Stephens’s Pornography is perhaps one of the Drama Barn’s most ambitious performances so far; yet the strong and impressive cast combined with the clever and tasteful directing – even when at some points prohibited by set and movement – creates an emotive, must-see event this term.