REVIEW: Porno Chic, Footlights theatre, Media City.

The #MeToo bandwagon rolls (rightly) on across the globe, but this revival of Vertigo Theatre’s “Porno Chic” is more than deserving of its place on any stage.

There are some who would deride this play, unseen, set in the 70’s and looking at the “other” star of the famed skin flick “Deep Throat”, Harry Reems, for glamorising the porn industry, and going against everything Me Too has stood for, but they are missing the point of the entire play. Porn is not, never has been, nor can it ever be glamorous.

Yes, it can seem it, looking back at how Reems and his co star Linda Lovelace were feted by both Hollywood and it’s stars AFTER the film began to gross more than many mainstream movies released the same year, but lets be honest, and this play is brutally honest, porn is not where any actor sees his or her career in the long term.

I’d not seen the previous incarnations of this show, so was able to watch it without making comparisons to those actors who had previously played these parts, and I was so glad. A fresh eye on what was, to me at least, a fresh and relevant work of fringe theatre.

Richard Allen as Harry Reems gives a performance that should get other directors sitting up and taking notice of this talent.

He is believable in every way as the man behind the cock, whose life was turned upside down, prosecuted, pilloried  and generally spent the rest of the next decade and a half trying to get his life as a serious actor back after just one day of filming.

This play does not shy away from just how bad his life descended into a drink fuelled orgy, before he found (As Harry puts it, “Yes, it is one of those story’s) god , met his wife and settled down until his death in 2013.

Nobody here is claiming that Harry was an angel, far from it, but what we do see in the skilful direction from Craig Hepworth is a man who is at war with himself.

We also get to see the far seedier side of the early 70’s porn industry.

Hepworth does not hold back where Lovelace (Celine Constantinides) and her abusive relationship with her first husband, Chuck Traynor, (Alex Thompson) is concerned. From forcing his wife to take part in alleged gang rapes and beating her when she refused to whore herself out to fuel his drug addiction, Constantinides is utterly believable as she moves from not so innocent waitress to sex object to anti-porn activist.

Watching the mental and physical abuse Traynor doled out to Lovelace is uncomfortable to say the least.

This is more than just a two handed play though. The entire cast slip into different characters with ease, and the scenes in the courtroom with a female Judge Harry W. Wellford are hilarious!

They do say you can find humour in almost everything, and lets face it, most comedy comes down to sex at the end of the day, so finding humour in the porn industry of the 70’s should not really faze anyone in todays times where you can watch pretty much any sexual act you desire at the click of a mouse, but you have to remember just how many barriers this film broke down at the time.

The staging and lighting were fantastic, as was the soundtrack. Just enough to keep the plot moving, and not enough to detract from what you were seeing unfold on stage.

From beginning to end, this show had an audience held in the palm of its hand. Its subject matter and principals dealt with in a sensitive, yet unvarnished way that allowed the performers to really get under the skin of those they were portraying.

Porno Chic is a parable for the 21st Century. It touches on the political pressures brought to bear by a Republican president, desperate to hold on to power, it shows us the reality of porn before the internet and just how bad it was for both sexes to be involved in the often violent and abusive industry.

If anything, Porno Chic was ahead of the #MeToo curve…

 

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Lionman (Footlights theatre, GM Fringe 2018)

Fringe theatre is, by its very nature, meant to challenge its audience. Lionman, from Dapertutto, at the Footlights theatre, Media City is certainly that.

Challenging.

Starring Tom Hardman as Leonard and Cameron Jones as pretty much everyone else, this is a piece of physical theatre the likes of which you probably don’t see often enough outside of fringe.

From the surreal outset, we follow Leonard as he attempts to complete his screen play, fall in love with the woman upstairs, fight the man in the flat below and all the while there is so little dialogue, you are drawn ever closer to the edge of your seat to see just how Hardman manages these feats of physical theatre.

The use of multimedia is brilliant. From the opening mashup to the awards ceremony, the technical aspects of the show could easily detract from whats going on elsewhere on stage, but its a credit to technician Leon Hardman and sound designer Kris W Laudrum that they add to the actors presence, and don’t overpower the piece.

The lighting is subtly muted, and the staging for such a physical piece works wonders. Sometimes less truly is more. I have no idea how long the performers have rehearsed this, but they hit every mark and made it seem so easy.

 

Footlights, Lionman, GM Fringe

Lionman

It may be a cliche, but this really was a work that made you stop and wonder at times.

The scene where Leonard and the neighbour rewind after a lengthy fight is so well done, that both actors deserved an ovation just for that.

Hardman must come off stage every night both physically and mentally drained! How he’s managed an entire week of shows is a testament to his skills as an actor.

There are dream sequences, which Leonard thinks are real, an awards ceremony that actually IS real and an off stage love interest who has no idea our hero even exists.

Even Casablanca gets a look in.

I went into this only having the preview on the GM Fringe website, so had very little as to what to expect.

I came away from the show filled with admiration for the lead, and the whole crew that they could so easily draw an audience into the world of Leonard so fully and with such aplomb as to leave me feeling as breathless as the performers must have been as they took their bows.

In the end, our hero appears to overcome everything that stands in his way, but at what cost?

 

Lionman runs for the next two nights at Footlights theatre, Kansas Avenue, Media City, Salford.

4*/5 Easily a must see piece of work from a promising new company.