Eight Gigabytes of Hardcore Pornography

ARTS, Theatre & Performing Arts

img_eightgigabytesBy Declan Greene | Directed by Laurel Devenie
Presented by Silo Theatre | Q Theatre, Auckland | June 18-July 11

I feel like I need to preface this review by saying that the shows produced by Silo Theatre Company are consistently some of the most exciting pieces of theatre I’ve seen in my short theatre-watching existence. So when I heard that Silo would be staging Declan Greene’s Eight Gigabytes of Hardcore Pornography I was pleasantly surprised. Being familiar with the script, I was prepared for a challenging and emotionally engaging experience. It is, on paper, a confrontational piece of writing to say the least, anchored by funny-because-it’s-true observations that will make you squirm in your seat and bust your gut.

The premise is anything but your typical romcom as we watch The Woman (Bronwyn Bradley) and The Man (Mark Wright) meet first online and then in the real world. She’s a shopaholic with a debt problem; he’s a liar with a porn problem. They’re not exactly what each other had in mind, but they’re both lonely and desperate. All the while they confess their deepest and darkest secrets directly to the audience.

And yet, as I witnessed the lives of an unnamed man and woman unravel in front of me, I was struck by how unaffected I was by all of it. Struck by how little I laughed and how it felt like a surface-level examination of middle-aged misery. Even now I am finding it difficult to articulate my disappointment and explain why it left me so cold.

While the inability for me to connect with the material might be thematically appropriate, it’s frustrating nonetheless. The response to the play back in Australia has been almost overwhelmingly positive, so the possibility I might just be jaded has crossed my mind, but I suspect there lies a deeper problem with this particular production.

The performances by Bradley and Wright are both solid but without surprises. They are instantly recognisable and relatable with their pettiness and first-world problems. We can’t help but see them as pitiful creatures worthy of sympathy. But they invite us to laugh with them or at them, rather than letting us laugh at ourselves reflected. These confessionals never take on the dimension of human complexity. What we’re left with are anonymous messages filtered through self-deprecating ciphers.

Director Laurel Devenie clearly understands the play is a dark comedy, but it never feels like the real world. The writing never shines in this production, resulting in a show that performs more like a staged reading than a finished product. And what little physicality is brought to the stage is limited, never adding anything substantial to the script.

I also can’t ignore the minor controversy behind-the-scenes. The audience is informed, by way of letter on their seat, that a change, without the author’s permission, has been made to the script by the director. To be specific, the following stage direction has been censored: Over the course of the following text, ONE and TWO remove their clothes. Until they stand, by the end, completely naked. In this referenced scene, instead of being confronted by full frontal nudity, the actors in this production only strip down to their underwear. Personally, I don’t believe this is why the production doesn’t work. Had they gotten naked, the problems I have with the show would still exist. But I can’t help but feel that this artistic choice is indicative of the unfortunate restraint that is felt throughout the entire running time.?? The set, light, and sound design elements all work together to create a world with only a thin transparent veil to hide behind. It’s suitably bare, leaving the actors metaphorically exposed the entire time. Transitions are also simple and allow scenes to move seamlessly onto the next. Basically everything you’d expect from the crew at Silo. But not enough to salvage the show.

Eight Gigabytes of Hardcore Pornography is far funnier and far more heartbreaking than Silo’s production will have you believe. Instead of mirroring our innermost fears, we’re presented with a cautionary tale or after school special for adults. Still, it’s not devoid of laughs and brutal truths. It’s just that they’re watered down until they’re far too easy to swallow.

I look forward to the possibilities of Greene’s other works premiering in New Zealand. Moth is a particular favourite of mine and deserves a production ASAP. But, until then, we’re left with a provocative text that never truly provokes. A decidedly softcore production.