If I’m being perfectly honest, I didn’t expect George Want’s production of Pornography to get in to NSDF this year. Hopefully George won’t mind me saying this as he’s a close friend of mine and I’ve told him as much. Indeed, he himself didn’t expect the show to get in either.
But why this scepticism? Because the show’s crap? Far from it: the show does brilliant things with Stephens’ text and I think it deserves a bigger audience than the 400-odd people who saw it in Warwick last year. No, I say this because the play was shown at NSDF two years ago this week and I didn’t expect the judges (some of whom are new to the festival but many of whom have been here for a while) to put it through again. Yet here we are, four months later, about to watch another production of Pornography.
I have a theory. Pornography is the 4.48 Psychosis of our generation.
In the thirteen years since it premiered, Sarah Kane’s play has been produced at least once every year by student companies around the UK. After only five years, at least nine university drama societies have decided to stage Stephens’ play. This ‘research’ is, of course, undoubtedly restricted to what’s published on the internet and there are probably countless other young companies who have produced these plays in this time and I don’t know how these figures compare to productions of other plays, but my point stands regardless; these playwrights are popular with studentsThe most obvious reason for this is down to the fact that both plays largely reject stage directions, appealing to the young director wishing to try her hand at creating something a little different. Kane’s only real directions are various ‘silences’ and aside from Stephens’ infamous “Images of hell” all he asks is that “This play can be performed by any number of actors. It can be performed in any order.” Each text, then, gives those working on them the freedom to try their own thing whilst still working with someone else’s work, merging the advantages of text-based and non-text-based theatre.
Both plays also reject traditional form and narrative, meaning wider questions and ideas can be explored by makers choosing to mount these productions. Kane’s play completely rejects any kind of adherence to narrative or character, whilst Stephens forces a re-cognition of Aristotle’s unities of time, place and action through the use of monologues. Neither has any specified setting or overarching plot, meaning that a variety of styles can be introduced if desired throughout their twenty-four and seven scenes respectively. They speak to a group of people who have simultaneously been bombarded and influenced by the media, critiquing this obsession whilst leaving room for its theatrical representation.
The themes of 4.48 Psychosis and Pornography seem at first to be somewhat incompatible; if we’re being reductive, one is ‘about’ suicide whilst the other is ‘about’ terrorism. The truth is far more complex, however, for both speak somehow to an image-oriented, obsessive society which seeks instant gratification. Stephens, it seems to me, is more aware of this fact, and does so in a way which makes more sense to our age group, which is why I say his play is the 4.48 Psychosis of our generation.
With these similarities between the two, it’s no surprise that we students return to these plays again and again and use them as a playground to try out new ideas. Neither playwright patronises its director by telling them what to do, and afford them the privilege of building up from the source text and to make their own statement about the play without stifling the words of the dramatist. Though I’ve yet to read about a production of Pornography (student or otherwise) which dares to do as much as Sebastian Nübling at the Deutsches Schauspielhaus in Hamburg, there is no doubt that the potential is there to do truly radical things. No wonder it’s back in Scarborough, then, for the second time in two years.