At this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Organised Crime Theatre Company have taken Simon Stephens’ play Pornography up to the Fringe for just six days, and are hoping to leave an impact with this brave debut.
Pornography is “about the Olympic bid and the 7/7 bombings. It’s duologues from fictional characters around that time, who are struggling with their own lives and become affected by it,” actor Matt Wright, who plays the incestuous brother in the play, tells me. Pornography is obviously a challenging play, and Wright believes “apart from the time it was written, I’d say it’s more relevant now because the characters themselves have a lot of doubts about the Olympics, and it’s interesting to look back on that now we’ve had the Olympics and they’ve been such a success. Obviously straight after it we had the bombings and it was a dire time for London. When I spoke to Dana [Segal, the director] about it, she said that it’s about the educations side of things, about getting a perspective on that time looking back from now.”
Moreover, Organised Crime’s production of Pornography is about the personal effect these events had upon us. “One of the things that’s difficult in the play, is at the end we read out a list of the people that died, not their names, just what they were doing. It’s very emotional and does hit home that this did happen and we were all a part of that. Even though the characters are fictional, it’s still very much about what the bombings did to us.”
Stephens’ plays often deal with difficult content, and Wright’s deviant character is at the heart of this. “We were very clear at the beginning what we were trying to say with the piece, so one of the themes of the play is the state of alienation from the society you were raised in – it’s called the state of anomy. What we tried to get with the transitions is this slightly stylised way of showing that these people are all in their own flow of things, and the bombing kind of jerked everyone back into reality, as it were. One of the lines in the play is that ‘our words are dead until we give them life with our blood’ which is very dark line; it is a commentary on how we are stuck in this routine way of life, and this brings us to do drastic things. I’d say a good example of that is my character, the brother who does controversially have sex with his sister.”
As far as challenging roles go, justifying committing incest is as difficult as it can get for an actor. “One thing you can argue is that because everything is so dull and mundane and everyone is constantly in this routine of London life, is that in order to get out of that we follow urges we don’t understand ourselves. What I think with big events like that is, ‘where was I when that happened?’ I remember where I was when the 7/7 bombings happened, and the character thinks, ‘I was with my sister, that’s so wrong!’ Luckily I have that release to shout it out with the character – he cares about his sister but he can’t take it. It’s so brilliant to do that role because it’s a pure climax point…I’m looking forward to sharing this emotionally charged experience with the audience. But I do think you have to keep a distance from the role, you have to realise that it is a character, and at the same time simulate the emotion with justice.”
This is arguably something that could be said of approaching the play as a whole, since the subject is close to home for so many people. “We had one day [whilst performing the play in Essex before the Fringe] where we had students, 16 -18 years old, which was extremely interesting because they were seeing something new and becoming engaged. Then there were some people who were having trouble because it’s such a hardcore play – we’ve had people crying. It’s about getting someone to emotionally respond to what you’re doing. We do want people to connect with the characters and what they’re going through, so if someone’s crying in the audience that means we’ve affected them. Essentially what good theatre’s about is if the audience is reacting, if there’s a strong emotional reaction, then we’ve done something right, we’ve done our job. We want them to feel this play.”
From what Wright says – and a sold out opening night at the Fringe – it would seem they’re having their desired effect. Organised Crime is one of those companies which have endeavoured to independently fund their place at the Fringe and are an example to anyone wishing to be a part of the Edinburgh Festival in the future. “It was a case of various fundraising things and I think a lot of it was our director’s drive. But in terms of me getting myself here, because I was so confident that this was something I wanted it be a part of, I just worked my arse off. I’d say if you want to bring something to the Fringe, just get so enthusiastic that you can’t be without it.” And with just a short run in which to catch it, Pornography might be a production you can’t be without seeing at the Fringe.
Image credit: Organised Crime