Review: Pornography

Presented by State Theatre Company of SA
Reviewed Saturday 20th October 2012

This production is the best thing that I have seen from this company in many years, and is the sort of high quality performances and direction, challenging writing, and superb production values that we should always be able to expect from a group that calls itself the state’s flagship company. Daniel Clarke has established a reputation for fine productions of meaningful plays and this adds to that reputation.

Aside from the G8 conference and Live 8, there were two big events in the first week in July 2005. The first was the announcement that London had won the rights to stage the 2012 Olympic Games. The second, on the 7th July, was that suicide bombers had set off bombs on several underground trains, and a bus, killing 51 people, injuring many more, and causing widespread chaos. The nation was in shock. Simon Stephens wrote this play that year, but it took some time before it was first produced for the 2008 Edinburgh Festival.

Matt Crook, Carmel Johnson, Ansuya Nathan, and Nick Pelomis take turns to deliver extended monologues, and a couple of dialogues, as a wide range of characters. In one scene, Matt Crook even plays a young lady while Carmel Johnson plays an older man. There is no connection between the characters or the stories in each of the scenes. Even the order does not seem to be important.

There is a young mother who suffers workplace bullying, and finds a way to get her own back on the corporate bullies. A mentally unstable schoolboy stalks his teacher. A brother and sister express their love for one another. A professor wants a former student to dance. An older lady clings to the past, trying to keep the modern world at bay.

At the same time, a man kisses his sleeping wife and children, pulls on his large backpack, which is filled with explosives, and catches the train to London where he boards the busiest carriage on the underground railway.

The final section of the play brings the cast forward to sit in a line and take turns reading the names of the 51 who died, and adding a few brief words about each of them, changing them from faceless, nameless statistics into real people. This is a simple idea and yet it creates a spellbinding scene that touches the audience as they suddenly have a connection with each of those people that lost their lives.

Daniel Clarke has assembled a mighty cast for this production, and what an absolute joy for Adelaide audiences that he brought Ansuya Nathan home to be a part of it. Nathan is another of those superb actors who could not get any work in Adelaide and was forced to travel overseas. She now gets lots of work in England and America, so we owe Clarke a vote of thanks for that. His other choices, Matt Crook, Nick Pelomis and Carmel Johnson, are Adelaide favourites who are always welcome faces in a production.

His direction of this work is impeccable, showing great skill in understatement in a play that definitely needs a light and empathetic touch, such as his. There is no way that an audience could look away from the stage for even a moment, as the performances that he has elicited from his cast are totally captivating.

Wendy Todd’s set is a railway platform, a long raised stage with huge semitransparent panels across the rear. Behind those panels are long racks of clothing, from which the actors select their costumes. Mark Pennington’s lighting design is a study in light and shade that many lighting designers could learn from. He selectively lights some areas and blacks out others to define locations and create moods. Composer, Jason Sweeney, provides a musical accompaniment that underscores each scene beautifully.

The performances, though, where what took this production to new heights, with each of the cast completely connecting with their various characters. The actors were invisible, even to those of us who know them well. All that could be seen were a collection of, often eccentric, English people, telling their stories. This is one of the few occasions in Australian theatre when even the accents were correct and consistent, and from the entire cast.

Pelomis is quite chilling as he calmly describes his trip through the English landscape by train, avoiding any mention of his mission and only referring to his bulging backpack when people complain that it is in the way. Crook is incredibly convincing as the young female ex-student of the lecherous professor, avoiding even the tiniest inclination to ham it up or play it for laughs. Nathan was well worth the effort to get her here, offering a sensational interpretation of a woman who is the mother of a boy she feels is weak, the wife of a man who may be philandering, and also an unhappy worker mentally abused by her superiors. All four gave magnificent performances, excelling themselves. I would have to say that this is the best performance I have seen from Carmel Johnson. Perhaps having a good director is a help.

If you can still get a ticket then definitely do so, but that might not be as easy as it sounds now that word of mouth, the best form of advertising, has had time to get around. Everybody has been raving about this production, and with very good reason, so do not miss it.

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.

State Theatre web site

Venue: Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, Adelaide
Season: to 27th October 2012
Duration: 2hrs (no interval)
Tickets: Adults $35/Conc $29
Bookings: BASS 131 246 or online here

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