Eight Gigabytes of Hardcore Pornography - review

by James Wenley / 22 June, 2015
When I texted my friend to coax her to see Eight Gigabytes of Hardcore Pornography with me, she replied, “Um it’s not weird is it?”

Not really. Bronwyn Bradley and Mark Wright’s characters do have some rather weird predilections. She’s a compulsive spender, but keeps $4000 cash under her pillow in case intruders invade her home in the night. He’s the porn addict, staying up blurry-eyed in front of the television till his wife goes to bed at 1am, and his favourite time of the day begins. Weird stuff. He wants an affair, she wants someone to cuddle her. They both yearn for connection. That’s not weird. Eight Gigabytes is an honest and up-to-date take on a uniquely 21st century response to desperate loneliness and an aching lack of fulfilment.

In Australia, Declan Greene’s 2014 play was sold with this proviso:

Warning: this production contains nudity.

Apology: this production does not contain pornography.

Nudity versus pornography – that’s an interesting distinction to think about. Auckland audiences will get neither. Declan Greene’s ending requires the actors to strip down to the buff. Silo protects their modesty. And Greene is not happy. On Q Loft’s seats you’ll find a note from the playwright on the issue, and Silo’s response. You can read Greene’s statement here, but the take-away is this: “In this production, these characters will hold something back… I don’t know what this version of this ending is – other than a compromise. That’s not how I would ever choose to end your experience of the play. And it never should have happened”.

It's time New Zealand theatre had a juicy controversy. In Australia, Melbourne’s Malthouse had to choose a new play in 24 hours after rights for Simon Stone’s adaptation of The Philadelphia Story was refused. Arthur Miller’s estate got litigious after Belvoir Theatre dropped the ending of Death of a Salesman. You don’t muck around with the rights. Greene points out that the nudity is an explicit requirement of the performance contract. Reaching a stalemate, Greene allowed Silo to perform their ending. That was gracious of Greene. He could have pulled the rights. But you can read his anger in his note.

Does it matter? Yes. Fatally so. The first effect is that it pulls focus from other aspects of the play. And when you get to the ending, it’s going to be top of your mind, already neutering the dramatic potential. The script has the actors describe what they are about to do, take off their clothes, and stare at each other’s bits. We are meant to be anticipate this moment with perhaps a mixture of dread and excitement. Greene tweeted: “theatre audiences have good imaginations. Hopefully they'll dream away those undies, lol”.

I can understand how the intended image would be far more powerful than seeing two people in their funny undies. The characters have been dissembling the entire play. Naked, they would have nowhere else to hide. Neither would we. Wright and Bradley remove their layers, but don’t go all the way. We get the gist, but it’s not exactly confronting. It’s a shame. How often do we get exposed to real, normal, lumpy bodies onstage?

Gigabytegate is going to sell tickets. You want to go and decide for yourself, don’t you? It’s good for business. But do Silo really want to gain a reputation in Australia and beyond of trampling on a playwright’s wishes?

Back to the play. Laurel Devenie’s devised productions (Giant Teeth, The Odyssey) are vibrant and full-of-life, but in her Silo directing debut her work feels muted. This may also be due to Daniel William’s set design, featuring giant screens covered in frosted plastic that dwarfs the actors. A TV plays constantly behind one of these, but strangely it is not the high-end new curved TV that Bradley’s character is so proud about. The set is saved by Jane Hakaraia’s lighting palette, which glows through the plastic sheets. Blips, rings and digital noises feature in Paul McLaney’s sound design, setting off a Pavlonian response in the stalls as we check that our own devices are off.

Bronwyn Bradley’s performance pulls you right in. Her character uses an enormous smile as a mask to hide her well of insecurities as she catapults herself from one indignity to another. TV funny-man Mark Wright hasn’t yet managed the difference between presenting a repressed character, and giving a repressed performance.

When they finally schedule their date, it unravels in hysteric laughter. They put on a brave non-committal show, all the while frightened that the other person will see them for who they truly are, and reject them.

These two come off as pathetic. Pitiful. Completely cringe-worthy. But they ring true. They are the digital abject. They narrate their stories to the audience, curating their lives like a Facebook news feed - a storytelling form we’re used to. Facebook gives us the illusion of intimacy. These two are the over-sharers, revealing grubby stuff about themselves that the Facebook Like police would never tolerate. During their date, they rush towards the audience, compelled to tell us what they are really thinking. “The truth is” says Wright, “I’ve never felt like a man”.

We can’t always trust them, they lie to us just as much as they lie to themselves. But they also show strong self-awareness about their addictions. They just can’t help themselves. Greene exposes the dark side of the digital culture, deep ugly truths that would never make a status update. Yet they are so ordinary. How many of us would stand up to scrutiny in such a play?

I get why Greene’s ending is important. We needed to reach that moment of utter vulnerability. The intimacy of a real human interaction. To completely put themselves out there, no matter the consequences.

While they firmly stood their ground with the playwright, the New Silo have taken a too softly, softly approach to his work. Go hardcore, or go home.

Eight Gigabytes of Hardcore Pornography runs to July 11 at Q Theatre Loft. silotheatre.co.nz

 

Photo credit: Andi Crown Photography

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