Thursday, September 17, 2009

Theatre Review: Pornography by Simon Stephens @ The Tricycle

Originally on Londonist here: I share my view on the London premiere of Simon Stephen's play about the London bombings.

Simon Stephen's Pornography at the Tricycle Theatre features pervasive and recurring irrational urban fury: sudden urges to stab strangers, hating fat people etc. Sean Holmes directs an extremely focused cast in this tense and subtle production, developing the ambiguous, mystified and self-absorbed reactions to that week in July 2005: Live 8, G8 summit, the Olympics bid, the 7/7 bombings.

The characters barely overlap but the cohesion of writing, directing and acting impressively brings it all together, making even the bomber like the others: he needs a coffee, he gets the train, he nurses a secret desire to transgress against the city that has alienated him and disappointed him. The schoolboy says and due to the strength of the ensemble, we know the others are also thinking: “I would do these things. If I was forced to, I would”. Could you ask strangers for food if their barbecue smells nice? Could you kiss your brother if you fancied him? Could you righteously bomb a city if it is full of sinners? And what if you start to think you should rather than could?

The line between "I might..." and "I must" is what the play dances around and keeps audiences on edge for when or if that line will be crossed. Stephens really likes to make audiences uneasy, either stretching tension to unbearable lengths through silences, unfinished sentences and abrupt twists in tone or through uncomfortable moments of action. Direct addresses to audience are interspersed with dialogue scenes, eventually unsatisfying but from the similar format of One Minute is clearly a style Stephens favours. It works; it involves the audience, makes it personal and immediate but the characters' interaction with one another are the most compelling moments. An important, uncomfortable, play for London and for everyone who has ever asked: “Why do you think it's like this now?”

Tip: Stay on after curtain call to see the projections on the backdrop.

Pornography, at the Tricycle Theatre until 29 August. For more information and tickets, go to the Tricycle website.

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