Simon Stephens’ plays are often hailed as dark analyses of what it means to be human, and can be raw, vulgar and shocking at times – apart from his adaptation of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, of course. On the other hand, his play Pornography brings us into the worlds of several different characters who clearly show us the dark side of human nature – and it’s this play that DramaSoc have on offer this weekend in the Drama Barn.
Pornography brings us into the bustling centre of London life, where we are allowed to dip in and out of various different character’s stories, thanks to the directorial decision to have this play done in promenade staging. Audience members congregate around different scenes, ranging from an incestuous relationship between a brother and sister to a racist schoolboy who is infatuated with his teacher. There’s also a working mother who seeks revenge on her immoderate boss, and a teacher’s former pupil who gets the wrong end of the stick when he invites her back to his for coffee.
There’s quite a bit going on here, so we’ll start with the staging. The promenade staging takes some getting used to at first, and I’m not entirely sure that it works on the whole. At times, I couldn’t hear what was being said in the scene I was watching due to the volume of a different scene colliding with it. Perhaps it was intentional, helping to represent the fast-paced way of life down in our capital, but if it was intentional, it wasn’t outlined and definite enough. I do, however, like this concept – the freedom to explore the space as you wish and hear segments of different stories enhances Stephens’ play, and, apart from when scene volumes clash with one another, it works.
Some of the characters also seem to flit straight from one emotion to another with no build up whatsoever, especially with emotions like anger coming in large, unnatural spikes that take away from the harsh reality of a situation. Having said that, many of the play’s characters, whose names we never learn, are nicely crafted and highly watchable – Hannah Eggleton’s former pupil and Martha Owen’s working mother are two fine examples. The performers leave the space after the first round of scenes, and we’re brought into the isolated world of a lonely widow (Maya Mughal), who delivers an impressive monologue that acts as a nice contrast to the other characters’ relationships. They then return to perform another round of the same scenes in case you missed anything or wanted to continue dipping in and out of scenes.
Towards the end of the play, however, after the second round of scenes, I couldn’t help but feel like the energy of the company fizzled out. The ending looked like it should have been quite a powerful, dramatic ending, but instead it appeared to be a slightly poor conclusion to what was otherwise one of DramaSoc’s most interesting productions of the moment. Nonetheless, with several interesting production aspects and great performances from several corners of the Barn, Pornography is well worth a look.
Pornography is in the Drama Barn until 1 November. For more information and tickets, visit the York DramaSoc website.