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Porn Virgins
The Phoenix Artist Club
4th August 2014

★★★☆☆

Caroline Roussel, Daniel Donskoy and Zara Banks as Kat, Stan and Rose

Photography supplied by Defiant Reality Theatre

Porn - love it or loathe it, you can't escape it. whether it's catamites going at it on the side of a Grecian urn, some particularly cheery people in a Louis Theroux documentary or warped grot in the darkest recesses of the internet ready to infect your kids with the mind-worms (if the Mail have their way), it's an ever-present part of history, culture and a liberal society. While Maud Madlyn's latest play, Porn Virgins, doesn't exactly tackle the art versus filth debate head-on, it at least wonders about its impact on our vulnerable in what otherwise is a silly, funny romp through the industry.

Here, porn impresario Layla (Victoria Howden) summons her performers Rose (Zara Banks), Kat (Caroline Roussel) and Stan (Daniel Donskoy) to the studio to discuss a change of direction. Old-hands Rose and Kat aren't on board, but Stan is so full of enthusiasm, he's up for anything. It quickly becomes clear that Layla isn't being honest about her motivations for changing the tack in the films, leaving it to the actors to wheedle the truth out of her.

The trio are characterised in different ways, but feel rather real with their own individual reasons and coping strategies for their occupation. Kat is outwardly angry and hard-nosed, dealing with the industry by focusing on cold hard cash and trying to keep people away. She wears skin-tight clothes and high heels, acknowledging what she's got and flaunting it, but only from a distance. Rose is somewhat friendlier, dressing with 50s glamour and remaining calm and professional at all times. Newbie Stan is inexperienced but eager, and just can't stop grinning at landing what is clearly his dream job.

But the real emotional heft comes from Howden's portrayal of the guilt of single mother Layla over her son Tyler's apparent hypersexualisation. Of course, she blames this on the exposure to her line of work - and this is by far the most intriguing aspect to Madlyn's script. At the heart of this story is the debate surrounding whether our children are growing up too fast because we're bombarding them with porn and - although not directly acknowledged, casual violence - at too tender an age. Is Tyler wholly to blame for his actions or has society let him down? What about his mother, who certainly blames herself? Madlyn touches on these difficult questions, sparking plenty of thought, but doesn't go as far as she could or draw any real conclusions. On a side note, it also seems odd that whilst Layla is determined to keep her family life completely separate to her work, she lets one of her performers babysit her 13-year-old, in what seems to be a long-standing arrangement.

A lot of time is invested in scene setting, with easy jokes about sexual positions and discussions about what constitutes feminist porn. Away from the moral dilemmas, this proves to be a humorous, if daft, piece. In particular, Donskoy's demonstrations of Stan's "signature moves" generate a lot of laughs, but due to the layout of the venue, not everyone can see him thrusting away. Co-directors Madlyn and Sharlit Deyzac need to work around this somehow, but admittedly, the limitations of the space present a challenge in this regard.

The noise bleed from the Phoenix Artist Club is perhaps the worst of any Camden Fringe venue, but this isn't exactly a new issue, so the actors need to work around it. Donskoy projects fiercely, his words never once lost in the club noise. However, Banks doesn't adapt as well when delivering her lines - we really have to strain to hear her, especially towards the start. The acting itself is always solid, it's just the problem with sound levels.

It's a enjoyable 45 minutes and a brave debut for Defiant Reality Theatre, but there's no real resolution and that's what prevents the production from becoming a hard-hitting comedy-drama. As it stands, it's a good ride, but it's over too quickly and that's a bit frustrating. With that said, we're definitely up for round two, and we'll be following this new company's next move.

Porn Virgins ran from 4th to 7th August 2014 at the Phoenix Artist Club, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Tottenham Court Road (Northern, Central)



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