Megan Shaefer reviews
After anticipating this debut for many weeks (not kidding, sorry, I’m that person), I was understandably keen to get my ticket for Simon Stephen’s Pornography, directed by second year Joanna Bowman – especially after having missed out on Backbone by virtue of setting off too late. I picked up my ticket fairly early, but it wasn’t long before the Barron lobby was filling up: the crowd indicative of the reputation this play seems to have within the theatre circles.
The inside of the Barron itself had been small-scale transformed: in addition to the usual set-up, seats for the audience were also placed in a square on the stage, around a floor sized map of the London Underground on which the actors later performed. The 360 degree seating wasn’t as much of a problem as I had originally imagined, however, seeing as during their performance actors turned and circled around one another, allowing everyone in the audience a view, even those in the potentially awkward top corner, such as myself.
Above the square stage hung photographs: images suspended on string, of scenes taken at the 7/7 bombings, as well as a Live8 poster and photos surrounding the 2005 London Olympic bid, which occurred days before the attack. It was a nice touch. The one that caught the light near my seat was of a victim being carried out of the wreckage with cloth over their face, an infamous image I remember circulating during the immediate aftermath nearly a decade ago.
The lights dimmed. The first actor to deliver a monologue came out from the side door as spotlights shone on the square of the London Underground. The play took on the subject matter in an alternative way – telling stories through the eyes of those who would not normally get the chance to: a schoolboy with a dangerous infatuation, a brother and a sister walking the Lannister line, and an elderly woman to name a few. Suzanna Swanson-Johnson is worth a mention alone for her fantastic performance of the latter, whereupon she perfectly balanced humour with what seemed to be a slow descent into senility. Tommy Rowe was, as always, brilliant. The entire cast, though faced with undoubtedly difficult characters, hard-to-swallow dialogue and fast paced delivery, excelled beyond my expectations.
The atmosphere was never once comfortable, and it could never have been anyway; it’s not a comfortable subject, after all, and some of the stories told by the characters were not for the faint hearted. In between each scene, ten descriptions of the people who died in the bombings were read out – brief insights into their lives, their hobbies, and where they were travelling to when they were hit. It was a grounding moment each time, bringing the audience back from their engagement in the fictional scene to the real-life consequences. The play ended with the harsh slam of a door, causing some to jump slightly in their seats, and the unnerved silence before the first clap seemed to be exactly the atmosphere the entire performance had been aiming for.
Overall, Joanna Bowman, the crew and the cast did an admirable job of bringing Simon Stephen’s work to life, heightening the ever rising bar in the quality of theatre within the university and doing justice to the delicate and tragic subject matter. With a new play recently passed for next semester, I eagerly anticipate more from Joanna Bowman’s directing.
Photo credit: https://www.facebook.com/events/650989751680858/