Writer: Alexandra Hannant
Director: Kitty Ball
‘It is like totally feminist’ argues one of Charlie’s glamorous co-workers at the United Nations who spends her evenings focusing on her side hustle as an escort, only both women work in the Department for the Prevention of Sexual Exploitation. Alexandra Hannant’s Seeking Arrangement, showing at the King’s Head Theatre as part of Playmill: A Festival of New Work, is a savvy if unfinished examination of female bodies and the power to control.
Sick of hearing ‘No lighty, no likey’ Bolton lass Charlie leaves her dwindling long-distance relationship and moves to New York to join one of the most illustrious organisations in the western world. But with a snarky boss, no induction and a low salary, the UN is nothing like Charlie hoped. So, encouraged by a colleague, she signs up for the Seeking Arrangement dating app and becomes Sugar Baby Tamara.
Hannant’s show is a funny, often outraged, tale of a young woman trying to make her dreams come true, if only she knew what those dreams were. The character of Charlie takes a very British perspective on the foibles of her American boss and workplace, giving a lacerating view of her experiences to the audience while rolling her eyes at the bewildering acronyms, rudeness and convoluted decision-making in her day job.
Although Charlie takes a moment to consider the hypocrisy of it all and the white saviour narratives that start to make her uncomfortable, we never get a tangible sense of what it is like to work there or the frustrated routine that hurtles Charlie towards a far more dangerous nightlife. Instead, Hannant focuses on the glamorous parts of the job: the fashion the parties and the rotating delegates, all of whom become a steppingstone to her career as an escort.
Seeking Arrangement offers a couple of examples of the bad dates that Charlie endures with creepy men but, again, a little more detail would flesh-out this 50-minute drama, giving the audience a greater sense of how she got started and her changing reactions as the money offered went up and up. And Hannant is a little coy about what Charlie does for that money – companionship and no sex is implied, but in a show investigating the various ways women are exploited, coerced and trapped, that is perhaps the most important piece of information.
It does, however, provide a really strong section on the consequences of dating Dan1954, a regular who makes Charlie an offer she struggles to refuse. The nastiness of that encounter and its aftermath is particularly affecting, suggesting that to forget this is a monetary transaction and to naively ‘trust’ someone paying for your time means Charlie is never as in control as she thinks and is just as manipulated as the women the UN is seeking to protect.
Gaby Richardson is very likeable as Charlie, bursting into the room with considerable energy and immediately winning over the audience with her sweary, non-nonsense attitude. Over the course of the show, Richardson demonstrates the extent to which Charlie’s bravado is largely for us, an inner voice that she doesn’t share aloud, demonstrating her character’s subsequent distress very well.
Seeking Arrangement ends a little abruptly, so as well as expanding on the contrasting experiences of Charlie’s two workplaces, there is scope for a whole second Act where the character’s trajectory is completed. There seems to be much more to say about what happens to this woman, her conflicts of interest and the complexities of modern feminism where money and power still call the shots.
Reviewed on 18 July 2021