Provocative, bold, yet slightly deflated. Director Bethany Pitts admirably sets herself a near impossible task: empowering prostitutes. There is a paradox between the inherently patriarchal nature of the industry and the play’s attempt to shape this into a feminist celebration of female sexuality. It is indeed a glorious celebration of all that is beautiful in women, yet the shadows of the self-indulgent abusive men permeate the stage. Their passive presence continually acknowledges the inescapable perversities of the industry, regardless of the way the women within are perceived.
Nonetheless, this play is thought-provoking and refreshing in content. Bea struts, she shouts, she soliloquises, in a whirlwind narrative that revolves around a creeping fear that her staunchly Catholic Brazilian mother will uncover her closeted existence as a sex worker. Her fluid identity and fountains of poetry meld together, giving the play a touch of magical realism to enliven Bea’s belief in the spirituality and connectivity of prostitutes. Shame is replaced by pride, when Bea is assaulted by demeaning insults and fired by blaze bosses.
Nastari’s humour fuses with the vigour of dance and jazzy costumes, whilst slightly conforming to cringe cliché, as yet another tequila shot is sickeningly downed and yet another cigarette is sloppily rolled. Her array of accents is impressive though, as a whole world is conjured around her to paint colour into the play.
The play is stylistically conversational, as dialogues seem to be improvised, developing alongside her tumultuous journey. Unpretentious in form, it emerges fresh from reality, seeking to reveal, as the audience is lured in with the biting starkness of the play’s title, Fuck You Pay Me.
Kitt Proudfoot plays the ever-important offstage part of Bea’s phone, with convincing wit. Proudfoot becomes a futuristic companionable version of Siri, whose autonomous and irritating commands add a refreshing edge. He is also the voice inside Bea’s head, but rather than adopting the unoriginal dystopian presence of a threatening phone too often explored, he becomes her extra limb, her form of rational sanity. This imaginative dimension is what sustains the comic momentum.
Prostitution is a reality that needs to be artistically explored. It claims, “to transcend the happy-hooker tragedy porn narrative”, which it does do to some extent by celebrating the underground life of stripper sisters with joy, tears and laughter. Yet I don’t think a play like this can ever be truly feminist. It works within the patriarchal power structures to empower, rather than breaking from it entirely. At times it feels slightly voyeuristic, although this is clearly its point as it is a confrontational piece of drama. Regardless, this play is an interesting and unexpected insight into a culture underrepresented by theatre.
Fuck You Pay Me is playing at the The Vaults until 28 January 2018
Photo: The Vaults