“easily one of the best student written plays I have seen at Durham”

Why do we hate ourselves for our sexual desires? Why do we condemn the leaking of celeb nudes and yet still take a peek? Who has more shame – the perverse or the frigid? All of these questions and more are posed, explored and purposefully left unanswered in Maria Galimberti’s incredible ‘Adult Entertainment’. Pornography has forever been straddling the definitions of immoral exploitation and erotic entertainment in popular culture and Galimberti’s excellent new play gathers its characters and the audience to sit and explore these contradictory views. Adult Entertainment is indeed just that – it is mature , even boundary pushing in what content is politely acceptable in student theatre but the sex talk here is never thoughtless or numbing like the in-play sex films the characters are consuming.  The writing’s practically seamless blend of this frank comedy and dark introspection makes for a refreshing and enthralling show that is provocative beyond a sexual nature and is a must see. 

The show begins with a group of strangers entering the expertly designed sleazy cinema to watch some equally sleazy entertainment. We’re introduced to each of these souls – the perv, the unhappy couple, the pornstar, the virgin etc – as they sit distantly in silence, shooting wary glances at their mutual viewers. The directing is strong throughout and the physical staging of the isolation of these characters at the beginning is characteristically disrupted by the joke-a-minute ‘Perv’ (James Porter) . He physically and thematically brings these individuals together as he stomps around the stage, critiquing the quality of mainstream video porn, and as the cast reluctantly start to engage with him and each other, the truth of why they have been brought together is revealed. 

There is not a weak link in this play’s cast and they handle Galimberti’s quick and crude jokes as effectively as their dramatic confessions. The show is effectively constructed and the writing and directing by Galimberti and AD Rhyen Hunt makes sure the pacing of the monologues is always engaging and the interrupting dialogue and audio of the adult film they’re watching nicely breaks up the action. However, the show would not be as stellar as it is without its strong performances aided by this thoughtful direction. As the ‘Perv’, Porter is skilfully funny from the jump as he actively demands for the taboo to be discussed and he is just as provoking dramatically. His commentary is endlessly entertaining and he’s on hand to enact a range of parts in everyone’s flashbacks before delivering a late-stage surprise that had the audience cheering. James Barber as Chuck Cox is also outwardly shameless with a hidden vulnerability and he effectively plays these nuances whilst tackling both an American accent and an intoxicated physicality. 

On the other end of the spectrum, Flo Booth as Vinnie brings the feminist, ‘sex work is like any other job’ mentality, but her raw monologue of anxiety and self-loathing reveals how she is as much an addict as anyone else in that room. Booth never hits a false note as she picks fights with the male characters or when she shows the conflict within herself and is a standout amongst an already great cast. Sean Farrell as Mick, offers the most innocent of the strangers, and he portrays the sexual awakening of a rather shy teen. He brings a necessary heartfelt romanticism with hilariously awkward sexual explanations and he is even game for a cleverly staged enactment of that very awakening. 

Finally, we have the troubled marriage of Grant (Archie Nolan) and Shirley (Zara Stokes) which proves to be the most compelling dynamic in the play. Stokes sits in nearly complete silence for the play’s first hour, her discomfort with Nolan’s eager discussions about the positives of pornography clear. However, once the play hits it’s last stretch, the couple takes centre stage in a complex portrait of porn’s dangers and the effects of sexual repression. Stokes reclaims much of the sympathy Nolan had taken up earlier in the play and her powerhouse monologue, aided by tense re-enactments with Nolan, is as excellently delivered as it is written. Nolan more than matches his onstage wife as he impressively navigates the play’s most complex role and his ranging from polite everyman to tortured vulnerability creates the vital moral ambiguity that the whole play hinges on. 

Production Manager Theo Nellis and Stage Manager Tia Fey ensured that the play went without a technical hitch. The great set design, appropriate background music, and offstage pornographic audio made the play especially immersive and credit must again go to Galimberti for her effective use of all of these elements. The lighting was expertly done and was used to bring some dynamism to a one-location show. However, a greater consistency in the lighting to signal the entrance and departing from the flashbacks and asides would have been appreciated, or alternatively a more coherent difference between each one if they are meant to signal something about each character could have also worked well.

Nevertheless, Adult Entertainment is an always engaging triumph and is easily one of the best student written plays I have seen at Durham. It is as funny as it is tense and it’s provocative nature perfectly rides the line and leaves the audience with no clear answers as to the moral and cultural questions it poses. As Flo Booth’s Vinnie remarks as the play closes, Adult Entertainment is something we have to sit with, and that’s crucial to its magic. 

By Niamh Kelliher

Adult Entertainment is performing in the Assembly Rooms Theatre until the 17th June

Photo Credits: Fourth Wall