It’s not common practice for me to use this platform to write a review of a stage show (other than the one about Emilia – which can be found here: Emilia), especially not recently, since this blog has been taken over with travel posts for so long. But I’m back on my bullshit and have some amazing reviews coming up of lots of fun films. First though, here are some of my opinions on the play written “by strippers, for strippers” – Fuck You, Pay Me.
Beginning with two performances by two different strippers each night, Fuck You, Pay Me at the Bunker Theatre was a truly unmissable and important yet totally entertaining retelling of what life is like working in a strip club. Actor/writer Joana Nastari and director Bethany Pitts have clearly thought about the importance of the message they want the play to convey, and do their best to ensure that this goes beyond the script and the stage. From the offset, it’s apparent that they are here to change minds and make a difference.
Nastari first appears as Jo, a blonde goddess figure clad in lit-up Pleaser heels and a pink business suit, reading from the ten commandments of the strip club (my personal favourite: “Thou shalt always, always tip”). We are caught up in this seeming perfection of what it means to be a stripper, a woman completely in charge of and owning her own sexuality, with the added bonus of only talking to men “when they pay me”. It’s all deliciously seductive and empowering until the show actually starts, the blonde wig comes off and Jo becomes Bea, a Brazilian girl just trying to make ends meet and get through the night as she avoids phone calls from her mum, who has just found out the truth about her employment.
Bea navigates a plethora of clients at the strip club over the course of one night and handles all the interactions with ease, that is until one man oversteps the boundary of basic consent and reaches out to touch her as she performs on the stage. She punches him in the face and is promptly fired from the club. The dream sequence that follows as she walks the streets in the early hours seems a little out of place from this gritty and transparent show. But by the end of the play, once Bea has had an emotional phone call with her mum (I suspect this is verbatim dialogue from a conversation Nastari had with her Brazilian mother – she translates the Portuguese with a tender smile on her face) and read out a letter proclaiming her love to all strippers the world over, followed by her own dance, the show is back on track and brought a tear to my eye.
Seeming at points to be ticking boxes on what fringe drama should include (multi-rolling – check, verbatim recording – check, on-stage costume change – check), the politically charged cards she holds up at the play’s finale, bearing slogans such as “SEX WORK IS REAL WORK” and “END STIGMA” were so successful that they ensured a standing ovation from an audience who were literally screaming over the top of Cardi B’s ode to stripping, ‘I Like It’. I thought that the show was generally incredibly successful and I really look forward to whatever Nastari creates next.
I hope that, in the future, further plays will fill in the gaps that this one inevitably left. An hour and a half isn’t long enough to explore the issues surrounding all types of sex work, and I do feel that despite all of its success, this play swayed dangerously close to emphasising the gap which so often takes place when stripping is removed from the rest of sex work as something that is far more accepted by society and more widely spoken about. This play did mention sex work in general but failed to explore it properly other than its narrative about stripping. I do hope that it has begun to nudge the door open a little more in terms of speaking about these more taboo topics. It was so well received by critics and audience alike that I do have hopes for this to be the case.
Fuck You, Pay Me wasn’t a perfect play (does such a thing even exist?) but it is an incredibly important one which I would say is a must-see if it ends up getting the extended run it deserves.