Theatre Review: Fuck You Pay Me, Bunker Theatre ‘Fiery Blend of Theatre and Activism’

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Finally seeing FYPM felt like a mission fulfilled. After all, I’d been following FYPM since its early days with its Kickstarter funding push and its enamel pin badges. So, it was with great anticipation I put on my Fuck You Pay Me pretty pink pin on my coat lapel and headed to Bunker Theatre to finally bear witness to creator Joana Nastari’s award-winning piece of theatrical activism that seeks to rip through the stigma and scorn that surrounds sex work and sex workers to reveal the brilliance and resilience of those working in that industry.

And I could not have been more thrilled with what I saw.

Each night, the show routinely starts with a couple of guest spots. The night I went? A fabulous stripper from the States spoke with real honesty and verve about her experiences and how stripping didn’t tear her down and exploit her, but give her solidarity in a sisterhood and inner strength. She was glorious. The next spot went to a boylesquer. Perhaps not so good – and not a name I recognise – but an important demonstration of what constitutes sex work.

Not that Joana necessarily wants us to pigeon hole those that work in the industry in any way that they are uncomfortable with. As she takes to the stage – the hostess with the mostess – she urges us to understand that sex work is not limited to sex workers but can extend to include careers such as those on chatlines, escorts, strippers and burlesquers. And to also respect the fact that some may not see themselves in that light or wish to be named as such.

Every worker has the right to define themselves as they wish.

This was what I was expecting – a blend of performance and activism that allows sex workers to talk about the ups and downs of their work, the assumptions people make, and the reality of it all. Only rather than present this as a lecture framed with performances, which is what I was expecting, Joana Nastari and her director, Bethany Pitts, have created an intricate, intimate, and really quite special piece of theatre for, what follows, is a 60-minute one woman show that follows Joana through ‘one night in the life of’ as she balances turning in a decent shift at the strip club with avoiding phone calls from her mother who has just worked out what her daughter actually does for a living.

The play that follows isn’t just brilliant because it is unexpected, it is also brilliant because it is cleverly conceived and superbly executed. Joana is a terrific actor. Whether it’s the women on stage alongside her, the tough manager always ready to penalise those who break the myriad of rules in the club, or the eye-rolling clientele she has to endure, Joanna injects humour and pathos wonderfully. And with clever movement and touches from Bethany, this is a dynamic piece of work.

Yet it’s the surprising but beautifully interwoven reflection on Joana’s family’s history and where her experiences mimic so much of what has gone before that gives this electric show its tenderest moments.

FYPM had all the fire and fabulousness I was expecting, but so much more too.

Bunker Theatre, London, to 19 May, 2019.
Tickets from £16 (concessions available)

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