This week we have been working on Simon Stephens’s play Pornography (2007) in class, within my elective subject ‘English Theatre’ (well, it’s ‘British Theatre’ but you know what labels are like, and it’s not really ‘Theatre in English’).

The title can be quite misleading, as Pornography is actually a play dealing with the historic week in July 2005, which included Live 8, the G8 Gleneagles summit, the official announcement of the 2012 London Olympics and the 7/7 bombings causing almost 800 casualties (52 dead and 700 wounded…). Stephens’s title alludes to his view that we live in pornographic times as we treat each other as mere objects, from everyday occurrences to the extreme case of sociopathic terrorists.

The play, apparently inspired by Jacques’ speech in As You Like It (“All the world’s a stage…”), borrows from it the traditional idea of the seven ages of man. Stephens tells a series of overlapping stories each corresponding to one age. I chose for class performance two scenes, corresponding to the lovers and the soldier in Shakespeare: a dialogue between two incestuous siblings whose newly born sexual relationship is cut short by the shock of the terrorist outrages, and a monologue by one of the suicidal bombers, which I myself played.

The little miracle to which my title refers was this: the two students who had to play the siblings, a boy and a girl, were having serious problems to meet and rehearse, as both work. To add to their problems I realised only too late that the scene was too long and some cuts would be needed. Not to mention the fact that Stephens decided not to pre-determine who says what (the lines are not preceded by the name of the speaker) and this requires much hard work on the side of the actors. I exchanged a few frantic emails over the weekend with the girl –who referred mysteriously to a Facebook rehearsal… – and hoped for the best.

To my delight all the scenes performed by students in class (text in hand) had worked beautifully and it would have been a pity if this one had gone awry. Then the miracle happened: the moment Ernest and Melissa walked in and looked at each other, I believed them, and so did their classmates. Call that chemistry… By the time the brother gets home from work on the day of the attacks to announce that he can’t cope with the horror outside and the situation with his sister, my heart was breaking. Really.

The week before we had seen a video with Simon McBurney explaining that he called his marvellous theatre company Complicité in the double sense that spectators and actors are accomplices (partners in crime or sin) and work in complicity. We saw another video with Simon Stephens calling our attention to how strange the idea of the theatre actually is: you go to a room full of strangers to see other strangers play fictitious characters, often on the barest stage and looking practically the same as they do in their daily lives. Well, I saw that in my class, the complicity between the ‘actors’ and ours with them. And it was beautiful. I have no better word for it.

Even more so because the incestuous siblings came after a series of truly inspired performances by almost everyone in class. I have no idea whether I myself did well (a student told me I was very scary with my black backpack, so I guess it worked…), but, as happened two years ago, I was very, very nervous after seeing how brave my students were being in our improvised theatre. Whenever I go to the theatre I try to relish as long as I can that moment when the light changes, some people appear on the stage and suddenly they become characters you believe in. I see that every day I go to class, and I want to thank my students.

So: thanks!

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  1. Thank YOU for giving us the chance to do this. I personally had lots of fun, both seeing the rest of the classmates doing their scenes and doing my own, despite the stress and the frantic e-mails as you say. It was a great experience 🙂

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