Do you remember where you were when we won the vote? When sporting titans in matching beige suits rejoiced over finally getting one over the French? Perhaps you were loitering outside your favourite teacher’s house or lying scantily clad next to your beloved sister? The summer of 2005 was certainly a defining moment in the history of our capital; we won the Olympic vote and, alongside seven other countries, attempted to make poverty history. It is these events that took place on the 7th of July, one fateful Thursday morning, that the New Theatre has competently conveyed for its autumn season opener.
Pornography is composed of eight individual monologues that are seemingly unconnected; the individuals we encounter are woven together by their manifestations of sexual desire. Simon Stephens’ taboo tackling text certainly evokes feelings of dread in its audience – the couple beside me winced whenever the incestuous Kat (Charlotte Sanders) and James (Max Miller) were on stage, but whether that was due to the subject matter or their somewhat unconvincing affection for each other is unclear. We are introduced to the entire spectrum of Londoners, who on any other day would be silent faces hidden behind their Metros.
“Demanding more of your audience is never a bad thing”
What binds these characters together is the decision of four men who on that day attempted to bring a city to its knees. Harry Pavlou as the fourth bomber gives a controlled, eloquent performance and does what the media so often fails to do, humanise. It is the resilience of its inhabitants that mean cities like New York and London continue to thrive. In a time of adversity an elderly recluse (Anna Stubbs) finds the courage to ask a neighbour for some barbecued chicken, which she does with the most awe-inspiring composure.
The content of the monologues are dense. We are not dealing with a play solely about perversions or fundamentalism, rather it is an exploration of the cultural conflict within the British psyche. Director Ollie Shortt appears to grasp the intensity of his subject matter however fails to truly challenge his audience by insisting on returning to reset mode after every heated exchange. Granted the musical interlude does provide some form of downtime to the two and a half hour affair, but what Shortt and his contemporaries must realise is demanding more of your audience is never a bad thing.
“Harry Pavlou as the fourth bomber gives a controlled, eloquent performance”
James Fox’s lighting design is by far the stand out feature of this production. Fox’s appreciation of simplicity is apparent in the amber filament bulbs and the gradual transitions used in Rose’s monologue. That is not to say that he wasn’t able to express the chaos and destruction the characters experience; the strobe effect towards the play’s climax was particularly refreshing. Emma Kendall’s curating of the London sound is well executed and alongside the detail paid to the tickets, one gets the impression this production team will go far. The New Theatre has always succeeded in harnessing small spaces and Shortt’s command and utilisation of the stage is unrivalled: a deconstructed tube carriage, exposed wires and an almost stifling level of dust surround the audience in a sensory spectacle. Dustsheets are draped naturally around the action, and together with Fox’s design, casts magnificent shadows across the space.
Although the queues at Westfield on a Saturday afternoon are vast, the question of our Olympic legacy is still up for debate. Shortt and his team, who have succeeded in giving a voice to the voiceless, have enhanced this legacy. The production reminds us through its unpretentious lighting design and skilfully directed characters that, in the words of Number 4, London is a city that is always on fire and forever under attack.
Pornography is running until Saturday 31st October at The Nottingham New Theatre.