“A prostitute is someone you pay to leave.”
I was totally knocked out by See Me Now, a powerful and brilliantly executed piece of theatre on the rewards and challenges of sex work, created and performed by sex workers.
Men, women and transgender. Straight and gay. Dominatrixes and escorts. British-born or from overseas… See Me Now has pulled together a broad and revealing cross-section of those who work in London’s sex industry to talk about their work and their lives. What is it that draws them to their profession – convenience or ease, passion or preference – and how, well, how does it all work??
This isn’t a show that rose-tints the industry in any way – but it is also not one that perpetuates a dangerous depiction of an industry comprised solely of pimps, the damaged and the exploited. And key to that is allowing the sex workers involved in this show to speak for themselves.
There are no professional actors here, repeating lines from sex workers’ lips. The men and women on stage are working in the sex industry. And given that sex workers must be the most marginalised and ostracised voices in our society, this was a damn good decision. But it must have also been immensely brave decisions for each of the cast members to agree to perform for fear of any retribution so immense respect to them for that.
And it’s a relief that they did agree to be involved in the performance because they are everything to this show – its heart, its soul, and its emotional punch.
Of course, there are some laughs and there’s a particularly eye-watering moment when a dominatrix wheels out her equipment and accessories trolley and runs you through what some of the more, err, painful ones can achieve. But what grabs you is the soul here. There are some painful personal revelations and tragedies revealed by some. That’s not easy to do in a private room, let alone on a stage, so huge plaudits to the cast for not only taking on the challenge of performance with gusto, but for being brave enough to share so much of themselves.
Writer Molly Taylor has done an excellent job of taking the experiences of these men and women and shaping them into an intriguing play. She has weaved the personal and the political well, with problems from the police and society contrasted with the everyday lives for the cast – people with as many similar challenges and frustrated dreams as the rest of us.
And there are some lovely touches from Director Mimi Poskitt. A smart use of music and audience involvement brings a lovely energy to the piece, and I was particularly moved by a passage where one of the young women in the cast expressed her inner conflict through an intense Maddy Ziegler-esque performance to a Sia track.
And what you are left with by the finale is the powerful message that there is nothing wrong with sex work – the fault lies in our hypocritical society that still refuses to engage with human sexual desires, to discuss it openly and freely, causing much to be repressed and considered shameful.
Simply put, I can’t fault this show. And why would I want to? That sex work and sex workers are so marginalised, even vilified, is a shame on our society. Many would consider them oppressed but what this show demonstrates is the will, verve and inner strength in this community who, daily, have to navigate such a shit show of abuse and prejudice to just live and work as they please.
Bravo to the Young Vic, Look Left Look Right, and High Tide for collaborating to produce this show, bravo to the cast for their bravery and strength to reveal themselves so honestly on stage every night, and I hope this show really challenges the prejudices in audiences to ensure that we can stand in solidarity with sex workers and give them the support they need.
Young Vic Theatre, to March 4, 2017
Note: I saw a preview on February 16, 2017, so it is possible that the show may be tweaked or amended.
Production images by Matt Humphrey