Pornography and Heartbreak
David Lee Morgan
Banshee Labyrinth, Venue 156, 29-35 Niddry Street
(August 9-12, 14-19, 21-24, 5:10-6:10pm)
Review: Phoebe Walker
Former poetry Slam Champion David Lee Morgan has, in his show ‘Pornography and Heartbreak’, undoubtedly produced one of the darker offerings of the Edinburgh Fringe. Walking into the gloomy belly of the Banshee Labyrinth for this performance is like taking a seat in a confession booth, albeit with an extremely eloquent sinner, as Lee Morgan shares his experiences of picking up prostitutes, visiting sex shops and, most disquieting of all, his sexual impulses towards his sister and cousin as a child.
This is, inevitably, a discomfiting performance, and rightly so. Lee Morgan gently informs the audience that if they feel they want to leave, they are quite welcome to, and similarly suggests that if people feel uncomfortable making a donation at the end of the show, he quite understands. He is an impressive performer in many ways; his narrative, a mix of poetry, prose, painful biography and song, is skilfully drawn out and powerfully delivered. A ‘Light’/ ‘Dark’ narrative key change is matched by simple stage effects which unshowily enhance the performance. There’s lyricism here, but also unflinchingly brutal commentaries that lay bare the realities of the sex industry, porn addictions, self-hatred and remorse.
This is a performance impossible to watch with detachment, moving and disturbing in equal measure, but ultimately a valuable contribution to the festival’s strong programme of spoken word. There is more skill to this performance than just admission, contrition and moral polemic. Lee Morgan’s story of his family – the father who ran away to Hollywood, the mother who ran away to secretarial college – and his sung tribute, ‘My Mother reminds me of Stalin’, are thoughtfully assimilated into his attempts to understand relationships with the opposite sex. I was troubled by the use of certain expletives, above all the use of ‘pussy’. These weren’t dropped gratuitously, but still had a queasy effect, which I suppose is the intention. If you weren’t listening attentively, it would be easy to accuse this performance of a hypocritical objectification, but perpetual irony and a kind of bitter self-awareness run quietly through every sentence. Watching Lee Morgan, you face a peculiar inner struggle between repulsion at the things he baldly confesses to, and admiration for his act of testimony. Performing in front of an audience always takes a measure of courage, but Lee Morgan exposes himself and his history at the most painfully personal level, as if he’s standing on the stage sloughing off his skin, rubbing in palmfuls of salt.
To be very clear, this is not really a show to just wander in to, particularly if you’re after a light-hearted way to spend your hour. It is disturbing, for some it may be distasteful, for others genuinely upsetting. It’s unsurprising that earlier this week Lee Morgan had to eject half of his audience for sniggering and smutty catcalling. I found it a thoroughly depressing performance, but valuably so, an unnerving and commendable exploration of individual and communal exploitation.