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 reading this play it become clear that Stephens intentions were to show the social and political flaws in both western and non-western societies. The portrayal of the bomber highlights the theme of thought vs. action. For example, the bomber is introduced as an average person with a family. There are no suggestions of the reasons for his attacks, no hinted religious beliefs etc. The woman in scene one thinks about death, but doesn’t act upon these thoughts, making her innocent. In scene four, the bomber is going about his day, he also contemplates death but acts upon those thoughts, defining him as a criminal. Committing the crime itself is 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.