1. What are the demands of the text? You should consider the original intentions of the playwright and how this may have been performed by others for a present-day audience. You must include examples from your practical work on the whole text. (Recommended 500 words)
Pornography, by Simon Stephens is written about the 7/7 London Terror Attacks, following the events of Live 8 and the 2010 Olympics announcement. Stephens wanted to create a controversial play, he did this by implementing his own view point of the terror attack. Pornography displays the political, social, and historical context of the terror attacks and the events leading up to it, which Stephens integrates throughout Pornography.
From studying Pornography, it’s clear Stephens intentions were to show the social and political flaws in both western and non-western societies. The representation of my character highlights the theme of action against thought. For example, the bomber is introduced as an average person with a family. There are no personal suggestions for his attacks, no hinted religious beliefs etc. In the opening scene, the woman thinks about death, but doesn’t act on these thoughts, defining her as innocent. My character, in scene four, is going about his day, he also contemplates death but acts upon those thoughts, defining him as a criminal. Committing crimes are irreversible, not thinking or the intention behind the crime. Stephens presents this idea that people separate good from bad, terrorist from victim, through the action.
Another intention of Stephens, was to challenge the popularised view of the attack, that the bombers were solely the ones to blame. However, Stephen presents Pornography as a story of transgression, that each story is metaphor for acts that cannot be undone, suggesting to the audience that societies, and these characters especially, have the desire to transform the past. This also demonstrates that Stephens doesn’t believe the bombings were completely out of hand, and that society is just as responsible and corrupt for letting the people of London commit crimes on an everyday basis. Stephens also said, ‘We live in pornographic times,’ and his inspiration behind the title was ‘The dramaturge for the production in Berlin sent me this fantastic article from a magazine where the journalist had selected close up photographs of people’s faces in pornographic images and magazine advertisements. All you could see were the faces. The challenge was to tell which came from which, and it was difficult. The atomisation of our culture, its fixation on aspirational pleasure is all pervasive, it’s absolutely everywhere.’ (https://www.list.co.uk/article/10159-pornography-simon-stephens-interview/).
Originally, Pornography (in German Pornographie) was written by Stephens and was intended to be directed by Sebastian Nubling (who collaborated on Stephen’s 2001 play Herons). This adaptation was performed in Deutsches Schauspielhaus in Hamburg, for the Melbourne International Arts Festival.
One of the main features for Nublings adaptation was the set design. For example, set designer Muriel Gerstner decided to incorporate Brueghel’s Tower of Babel as the backdrop, that was uncompleted. Throughout the show the actors would add tiles to the backdrop, when not in action, as Nubling wanted to symbolise the tower as London and how the events of Live8, the Olympics also connected to the attack. This successfully presented Stephen’s intentions as he said, ‘it was the best design that I’ve ever had … the necessity and the impossibility of completing the mosaic seemed, to me, to be thematically relevant’ (Simon Stephen’s email correspondence with Jacqueline Bolton, 25th April 2012)
Sean Holmes directed the British premiere of Pornography in 2008 at the traverse theatre, Edinburgh. One of the challenges as a director for Holmes and the actors was having to create their own adaptation of Pornography, ‘that was new for me, this thing of inventing, having to invent a structure’ (personal interview between Sean Holmes and Jaqueline Bolton, London 21st June 2010). However, one of the choices that Holmes made as a designer, different to the German adaptation, was to have a bare stage with only wires and electronic devices being on stage.
One of the demands for the text as an actor, was that Pornography consisted of seven sections (4 monologues and 2 duologues and a list of the 52 victims who died) that can be performed in any order. In numbering, rather than naming each monologue, Stephen’s intentions present the illusion of countdown to the explosion. The monologues however aren’t dependent upon each other in creating the plot but rather would be more effective to perform them in order maintaining this chronological countdown. Therefore, actors would have to pick a section and would, under the direction of the director, must create a character out of these lines without having a lot of direction given, one of the challenges that occurred in our own adaptation.
2. What is your artistic vision for the performance? You must refer to the whole text in your answer. (Recommended 500 words)
We defined the artistic intention for our own adaptation of Pornography as following the intentions Simon Stephens himself, to portray an idea to the audience on the 7/7 bombings, ours being to educate and show terrorism’s relevance. Even after several years from the 7/7 bombings, we can still see that even in 2018, no individual is safe against terror attacks or even a person’s own mental thoughts, a theme which runs throughout Pornography. This became our artistic vision’s main incentive.
Looking at Stephens way of approaching a play, our group wanted to embody the roles of our characters while making necessary changes to our performance. For instance, Cerys (old woman) speaks in Received Pronunciation, wears a blouse, and carries a walking stick. We knew that this would give the audience a visual representation of her character while contradicting Stephens ‘no stereotypes’ ideology, especially when compared to characters that subvert stereotypes such as my own (the bomber). I wanted to subvert the stereotypes of the public through my characters costume, so instead of wearing clothing typically associated with bombers such as a gilet or tracksuit, I had decided to wear a hoodie and jeans, as I wanted to be represented as ‘normal’, but also thought of the idea to juxtapose my costume, by wearing distressed clothing and having blood smeared across my face to foreshadow my death to the audience.
For our artistic vision we looked at viewpoints of performers, directors, and designers, to ensure our artistic vision stays true to the Stephens intentions through set and direction as well as the narrative, while incorporating features of other directors who adapted Pornography. For example, I suggested to the group that we use a similar set design to Muriel Gernster, as not only did it followed Stephens intentions, but also was praised by Stephens as well. I decided to conduct some extra research into the events of the terror attack as I had the idea to create a montage of the information on the backdrop of our performance, which my character, the bomber, would piece together throughout the show (similar to the tile feature on Brueghel’s Tower of Babel in Nublings adaptation) to show the historical context of the terror attacks and how it’s a main feature of the narrative e.g. Live8, the Olympic announcement etc. While conducting my research I also thought to incorporate the abstract nature of Sean Holmes set in his adaptation of Pornography as not only would it allow the audience to focus more on the narrative, but would also give us more space on stage, especially in the moments where we incorporate physical theatre. A performer viewpoint would be the rehearsal techniques we used such as ‘Taxi Driver’, to improve our characterisation. In this exercise our character enters a taxi, our character adopts a strong characteristic and exaggerates that characteristic until we’ve significantly developed from the start.
We wanted to create a performance that not only was visually engaging, but a performance that also displayed our own abilities and skills as performers, so we incorporate both the techniques of Brecht (multi rolling characters to communicate the narrative effectively), Stanislavski, (to make audience’s aware while keeping true to the real events of the terror attack) and Frantic Assembly as inspiration for our piece. One of the challenges that we found while practically exploring the text was the physical lack of communication between the characters however through our practical exploration of the play-text we managed to solve this issue. For example, the opening section of our adaptation incorporates physical theatre (to Ghetto Gospel by Tupac, a popular song at the time)which inspired by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Abram Khan in ‘Zero Degrees’ and the idea of communicating between our characters without physically touching each other. We wanted to show how theatre is evolving through physical theatre and movement, and Frantic Assembly inspired our group to use physical theatre to visually engage a contemporary audience while keeping true to the narrative.
We had decided to remove the incestuous relationship duologue and the mothers monologue. This is because our target audience is secondary school ages upwards, so the dialogue and events between the siblings would be too explicit for the audience and derive our intended effect. We also felt that those sections of dialogue, especially the mother, did not offer a substantial amount of context to the play as much as the other monologues did, for example, the character of Jase and the Old Woman help generalise the public while also giving us at their juxtaposition with their characteristics racist school child and a lonely sophisticated woman. We have also changed the gender of one of the characters Jason to Jase, as we were interested on how an audience would react to a girl expressing very strong racist ideologies to society, sticking to the controversial intention that Stephen’s advocated throughout Pornography.
3. What are the most important characteristics of the role/extract that you wish to communicate to the audience during your performance? Give specific examples from the performance text to support your answer. (Recommended 500 words)
After watching my audience, I want the audience to go away with a sense of clarity, that through my character, I have managed to influence their view on terror attacks positively making them not fear of or express hatred because of negative stereotypes of terrorists.
Throughout the rehearsals and character development of my character, my focus was always on the audience and how the audience will receive my performance. So, I made this the focus of my rehearsals.
Studying my character was interesting as I found the juxtaposing elements of my character interesting, because in real life the bombers were portrayed as villains and murderers, but Stephens manages to present my character in a way that makes the audience want to sympathise with him when they first encounter him, until they realise that I’m the antagonist. Therefore, in rehearsal I used several Stanislavskian techniques to ensure I could communicate the innocence of my character. For my characterisation I started off with Given Circumstances, and the information about my character that is described. This allowed me to ask myself about my character, and things such as his age and his situation in the play and where he lays in relation to the other characters. This was helpful as it allowed me to discover my super objective for the play, that I wanted to be noticed. I chose this as my super objective as I felt it linked with my characters outcome at the end of the play.
When not in the action, I would often step out of the scene and look at what is occurring in the scene, each of us did this at certain point to direct other actors during their scenes and offer them any advice or feedback on their performance. For example, when me and Rachel were observing a scene between Lecturer ‘A’ and ‘P’, we agreed that the scene wasn’t engaging from an audience perspective. Therefore, Rachel suggested that they could incorporate more physical movement into the scene to engage the audience, so myself and Rachel organised a 10-minute physical workshop, where we did several exercises like ‘leading with a body part’ so they could see how to change their physicality to suit the intention of their words. After doing this for several minutes they managed to progress further by exaggerating their characters natural stance, as well as the way they move around the stage to the point where they felt uncomfortable physically. After this, we then asked Cerys to look at their scene and see if she saw any development, she said there was a huge improvement. By offering feedback to each other it allows our characters to develop a stronger message when performing in front of an audience especially by portraying real life citizens during the attack.
I personally think that one of most important characteristics of the extract that I wish to communicate to the audience during my performance is the features of the set design and costume. For my character I conducted some research into my character and how I should be presented to the audience. I decided that the best way to portray my character to the audience to the audience would be by wearing distressed clothing and visible blood, similarly to the character of the waitress, who also dies. We also wanted to show the different ages and classes of the characters, for example Rachel (Jase) is a teenager who wears a school uniform to represent the youth, Cerys (Old Woman) wears a blouse and skirt to suggest her maturity, and similary Dan (Professor) also wears glasses, a shirt, and chinos to suggest his occupation, teacher.
I really wanted to communicate the set successfully to the audience as I personally did a lot of research and worked with Dan on creating a set which can grasp Stephens Intentions and give reference to pervious adaptations of Pornography. For the set design we placed a map of the London Underground on the back wall at the back of the stage, to show geographical location of the play and most importantly where the attack took place. When researching the attacks online I found out the locations of each of the four bombings that took place on 7/7 and decided that I could link these with a piece of string/ circle them with a pen during the performance throughout the play. This makes the audience bewildered as to what’s going on at the start of the show, but as each event Is mentioned, my character would highlight it, foreshadowing the events of the play. By doing this it allows the audience to interpret this feature in whatever way they want to, a feature which Stephens did in the original.