Fuck You Pay Me – The Bunker Theatre, London

Writer: Joana Nastari

Director: Bethany Pitts

Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty

Ending with a real note read out to the crowd, this show is one long love letter in support of sex workers – a love that really shows through. It explores the multiple positive possibilities alive in the field of sex work – making the case for this being an area of career of strong choices rather than the image people may have of nearly enslaved (mainly) women grinding out a life due to an addiction or debt.

Written and performed by Joana Nastari, it’s cabaret fun, it’s “serious” theatre serious, and it’s smart in its depiction of the trouble this industry has and the stigma its members face for, as Nastari points out, just doing their job. Bringing in special guests such as producer Esmeralda Cifuentes-King, herself a dancer in the US, to change each show a little gives the sex worker community a chance to speak in all its diverse glory – further cementing the intention of this show as a celebration of the industry.

While celebrating, however, Nastari is careful not to glorify it. With an engaging but fairly recognisable near monologue show format (Nastari playing “One” and backed up by Charlotte Bickley as “The Other”, essentially her “phone” which interrupts her working night) we’re shown backstage and front of house at a strip club. The hustle for shoes and outfits, the intimacy of the performers as they measure intimate body parts, the rush and crush to get men to pay for dances and the difficult emotional journey it involves when putting on the stripper voice, the fines for not adhering to the club rules, pretending to be interested in a job of an insurance exec for a £20 dance chip, the drugs and the drinks, the squeamishness and fear of being outed.

The second act (no interval in the 1hr 50min run time) of the show is a fantasy dance and spoken word performance taking us back to the Brazilian and Italian ancestors of One. It’s vibrant, creative, charismatic and philosophical. It takes us from stories about coke in strip club bathrooms to the jungles and back again.

Performed with vim and set in a beautiful space designed by Naomi Kuyck-Cohen, lit by Martha Godfrey, and backed by a banging soundtrack (soundscape?) from Charlotte Bickley it’s certainly “serious” theatre. It’s self-aware though, and lets no one forget that we’re here as allies, not as a passive audience. It’s great to see a performance and a show that makes an audience take an active choice – to support or not. Nastari and Pitt’s show is the last in a line of cracking work at The Bunker, charged with political, social and cultural nuance and importance. An unbelievable place to grow from.

Runs until 19 May 2019 | Image: Maurizio Martorana

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