EIGHT GIGABYTES OF HARDCORE PORNOGRAPHY plays its final performance on Saturday 10th August at 7pm at the Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond. Tickets and information here

IN BRIEF Intense black comedy dissects unrealistic expectations of modern life through detailed performances and direction

“I’m so fat”

“I’m so ugly”

“I’m so stupid”

“I’m so old”

Punched up by a throbbing light, an hypnotic barrage of negativity prefaces Declan Greene’s play which deals with the attempts of two lonely, desperate forty-somethings to find a real connection through our modern ultra-judgmental cyberworld.

Both characters have been cornered by life. She’s a nurse with a shopping addiction, a debt mountain, out of control kids and a secret fear. He’s an IT guy in a sterile marriage and addicted to online porn.  They hook up through a dating app. The audience endures with them an excruciating, conversationally-mashed meeting in a bar followed by a flailing attempt at casual sex.

His downloading of (the title’s) porn onto his work laptop get him fired and he panics, returning to her where reluctantly she gives him shelter. Through an unexpected later event they are finally able to come together at the close of the play, and for a moment at least, they can be open with one another.

Greene’s script produces laughter of many kinds, sometimes at the most unexpected times. Sometimes, it’s the laughter of recognition; there’s something here that we can all relate to, and it’s not easy. The audience I was with were vocal and up for the ride. Early on there’s a very funny but uncomfortable verbalisation of text-message foreplay with spoken punctuation, emoji-speak and time-lags played out in real time, which works really well. And occasionally, the dialogue is piercing (“Just someone”, she pleads into thin air).

Denying his characters’ right to names, Greene cuts through them, examining the layers of denial and desperation which have accumulated. Scenes in which feelings and sensations are discussed, mostly of shame and disorientation, are starkly effective.

Theatrically, the characters are isolated by space and lighting. Where the two characters do interact, their cut-aways, speaking frankly to the audience, work to draw us into their messy situations. In fact, the characters seem to talk more to the audience than each other, underlining their life in isolation, aided by the lighting design by Chris McDonell which was also amusing in its depiction of orgasm (or not), and boosted by Lex Kosanke’s sound design.

On Cory Shipp’s clever, simple set comprised of three separate spaces, we are given fragments of her backstory to put together, as Greene stokes the underlying tension. Just what is she terrified of, and why has she got £3,000 in cash in an envelope?

The climax of the play brings some apparent truth in its wake and the possibility of a little light in the midst of all this darkness. And any play with as smart a curtain line as this one is good with me.

The acting is first-rate. Cate Hamer expertly captures her character’s wrung-out desperation, living at the tips of her nerve endings, the caring part of her nature at odds with her reactions when provoked. Her backstory weights the play towards her, and her studied performance easily supports that load. Matthew Douglas charts his character’s obsession with youth and age, predatory bravado and sudden decline with skill. Both performances are enriched through Gianluca Lello’s sensitive and incisive direction.

Nobody’s perfect, as they say. But this play reminds us that the contemporary pressures to expect perfection of ourselves -and of others – are not only unrealistic but deeply self-destructive. We haven’t seen the last of Greene’s play, I am sure.

EIGHT GIGABYTES OF HARDCORE PORNOGRAPHY plays its final performance on Saturday 10th August at 7pm at the Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond. Tickets and information here