Despite the title Simon Stephens' play isn't about pornography (although an unlikely character does confess to watching it) and while there is a its context makes it particularly unerotic (the character's naked because he's just been having sex with his sister.) Instead the play is about one of London's most eventful weeks in recent history, when in July 2005 Live 8, the 2012 Olympics announcement and the 7/7 bombings all happened within days of each other. Eight actors perform 4 monologues and 2 two-handers that overlap over the course of the evening, describing events from the week from their own point of view, and culminating in how the bombings affect them, some more, some less.
This could have been about a bunch of likeable characters with the inevitable tragedy hanging over them, but interestingly Stephens opts for a collection many of whom are hard to like - the aforementioned incestuous siblings (Kirsty Bushell & Sam Spruell) of course make for uncomfortable viewing, there's a violent, racist schoolboy obsessed with one of his teachers (Billy Seymour,) a hate-filled older lady (Sheila Reid) and, of course, one of the bombers (Anthony Welsh) casually describing his journey into London on the day itself. For me the most sympathetic character was the young mother (Frances Ashman) but even she may have a drink problem, and is oddly determined to sabotage a big project at the company she works for. The remaining two-hander about a university lecturer getting a bit too close to one of his former students (Sam Graham and Sarah Solemani) is as well-acted as the rest but was the only one that for me didn't quite fit into the play as a whole.
Overall I was very impressed with Stephens' play and Sean Holmes' production. Although this could have been bleak considering how the week ended, the script has many funny moments and the excellent cast help us find something to like in even the darkest characters. And wisely, instead of trying to find some trite explanation for events, the play just gives us a sort of alternative look at the city, through snapshots of some of its hidden corners. As for the title, it's never explained but I would say it refers to the voyeuristic nature in which these private thoughts are shown, without being glamourised or judged.
Pornography by Simon Stephens is booking until the 29th of August at the Tricycle Theatre.