Review: Porno 88

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Porno 88: A XXX ReadingWith a provocative title and a line-up of the most esteemed names in the Cape Town theatre circuit, Porno 88: A XXX Reading is bound to have the Fringe Festival lovers drooling in anticipation. But before you rush to the theatre, know that this lovable, innuendo-laden lubefest is not for the faint-hearted. Conceptualised by Louis Viljoen and Greg Karvellas, this slacker comedy follows a group underachieving nerds in their odd venture to produce a porn movie on a very tight budget.

Reader’s theatre can easily plunge into a monotonous, academic rendition of text, but Viljoen and Karvellas handle their production with intellectual quips and a marked degree of theatrical finesse. The show initially appears steeped in geekery, but eventually takes a surprisingly middle-of-the-road turn with its sub-theme: vampires. I was surprised that Star Wars, the holy grail of geekdom, wasn’t somehow woven into the tale. The spacious City Hall stage has a simple black backdrop, with each performer dressed in normcore garb. A few props and costume pieces depict some aspect of character; Zoe’s candyfloss wig, for example, instantly reveals her seedy profession.

The art of a reader’s show like Porno 88 rests completely on the shoulders of its performers. It’s a classy touch to have the multifaceted Nicholas Spagnoletti serve as narrator; he transports the audience to the gritty setting and ultimately weaves the tale together. Terry Norton as the brashy Greta, is armed with the best lines, and delivers her prose effortlessly, with astounding attention to detail. Part of Norton’s charm is her vibrant rigour and lively expressions, which blend well with the insults she spews. Another crowd-pleaser is Ralph (portrayed by Adrian Collins) who seems to drift in a world of his own. Collins’ intentionally vacuous presence, slouchy posture and meh-isms initially keep him on the sidelines of this well-paced show; it’s only when he crams hilarious, confident sexual diversions into a monologue that he leaves the cast speechless and the audience in stitches.

Porno 88 seems to revel in the concept of casual sex without the need for long-term relationships, but the production never makes a strong case for why these characters are together; the story just demands it. That is particularly true for Greta, whose attraction to the shiftless Tom never makes much sense. It is refreshing to see Karvellas and Viljoen masterfully dodge some enticing stereotypical bullets though. Abraxus is the most – ahem – ‘gifted’ among the men, yet his self-effacing, naïve demeanour adds an interesting dimension. With her kinky, adventurous side constantly emphasised, the foul-mouthed Greta doesn’t fit into the ‘uptight female’ box, while Tom, the most likeable character and sole ‘voice of reason’, still appears terribly goofy and flawed.

We live in an age of gross-outs and excess – all shock, no value. One of the reasons pornography is such a popular subject is that it appeals to both the prudish and the prurient. Most theatre productions about porn, however, are sniggering soft-core comedies with cheap laughs, drenched in shock tactics. But this show almost certainly intends to subvert the tropes of the traditional romcom and be combative and raucously offensive in an interesting and provocative way. What is the dark secret behind this duo’s latest salacious venture? Beneath all the rampant swearing, graphic sex talk and in-your-face scatological humor, Porno 88 is – gasp! – deeply moving and entertaining. No matter how askew things get in this slacker-style romp, you can count on seeing the good folks rewarded with more than just orgasms, the bad ones humiliated (or in Uncle Vlad’s case, cannibalised), and the power of friendship overcoming the toughest of obstacles.

Benn van der Westhuizen

Porno 88: A XXX Reading, is part of the Cape Town Fringe Festival and will run at the Cape Town City Hall from 25 to 28 September 2015.

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