The revolution will be sexy: On Fuck You Pay Me at Bunker Theatre
I’ve been waiting to see Fuck You Pay Me forever. The degree to which I’m absolutely buzzing to see this show is 100% enhanced by Naomi Kuyck Cohen’s glorious set design before me. It reminds me of a pencil case I had in year 4 remixed with gothic candles and that distinct blue glow of night clubs. It’s trippy and witchy, and by the end of the show I realise how precisely it correlates with Joana Nastari’s beguiling and important show about, for, and with sex workers.
Before we’re taken into the world of the play we’re treated to two short acts. the first of which is Electric Girl. She strips, unforgettably, to techno beats. I'm always fascinated by what dancers can do with their bodies — the satisfying clack of massive heels, the chiffon costume thrown off and the smile permanently on Electric Girl’s face make for an experience which is as joyful as it is sexy. From the off she has the whole audience grinning. Breathless awe ripples around the room as we vow in silence to be much sexier versions of ourselves – not least because it looks really, really fun.
As I ponder the fact that I wouldn’t last two steps in those heels, the "token white dude" DJ introduces the next guest and signals the start of Fuck You Pay Me itself. An arch-matriarch played by Nastari (the show’s writer and sole performer) saunters on in a pink two piece and Lumley-esque wig before stating the rules of the club. The introduction culminates in the question, "who here has consumed sex work?" I watch in disbelief as only a few hands go up — we literally JUST watched a lap dance!? Nastari will artfully pick up on the gulf of hypocrisy that lies between what we perceive as high brow in a theatre context but shameful in another later but, for now, she quips "porn counts too" and a pitiful extra few go up. I'm in a room full of liars and the most honest voices are on stage.
With that, Nastari shape shifts into the young, trackies-and-trainer-clad B, whose story this really is. She lures us into this one particularly eventful night at work, taking us on a sprawling journey from the club to the recesses of her sleeping mind. Although the narrative gets a little vague at ties, it tallies with the bleary, semi-lucid way the world feels after four tequilas in a loud club.
Very occasionally theatre gets to the absolute essence of society’s deepest complexities – B’s relationship with her mother (shown through a series of voicemails left in Portuguese) provides one of those moments of absolute clarity. B’s mum, having cottoned on to the reality of her daughters job, announces: "I'm not disappointed. I'd be disappointed if you were an arm's dealer." The whole room nods in recognition because, yeah, actually what harm does stripping do that occurs as a result of the stripping itself?
This gentle and loving interaction sets off a raging internal monologue which cheers and chants within me through the rest of the play. Do women only get patronised, groped and belittled I strip clubs? Of course not. In fact, all the strippers I've ever known (and there are loads, because it's just job at the end of the day) have often reported the same things back: sisterly solidarity, exhilarating, unpredictable nights and the joy of dancing.
Nastari knows that actions speak louder than words. She encapsulates everything I’m thinking in the space of one unapologetically sexy dance whereby we see her shine, shame-free, before proudly raising a series of placards with slogans such as "sex worker allies are sexy”. She’s grabbed our hands and taken us from the strip club to the protest march. When Nastari howls during her dance, something inside me howls back. This is the absolute perfect climax to Chris Sonnex’s epic opening season that has rendered the lines between theatre and activism blurrier by the second.
Head over to FYPM’s Brazilian Wax: We’re Going Home party at Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club on July 14th!