Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Laps and Drams

'Gareth, I think you need some new interests.'
Gail Tolley, Editor, The List.

Perhaps announcing that I had seen five plays about stripping in the office wasn't the best idea. But in the last few years, plays about the lives and thoughts of lap-dancers have spread across the Fringe like that rash I got on my holiday to Prague. The full range is represented this year - the tales of woe (Naked in Alaska, although that has a very positive finale), the feminist stripper (Sister), the scripted monologue that tries to cover all the bases (So What If I Dance?I). Is it too late for me to claim that it isn't the content that I care about, but the dramaturgy?

Any subject would do for my investigation, but lap-dancing has a nice edge of danger about it. That is really why it is a hot topic. It has a marginalised group, engages with gender identity, and has the lure of the erotic. Yet despite all these things, the subject is not enough in itself to hold the attention. Theatre, even if it is autobiographical, needs to be, like, theatrical. A story set in a strip club is going to be more theatrical than a monologue about the life of the stripper, thanks to the competing opinions of the characters involved. When a single voice speaks, even if they are an unreliable narrator, there is only their story, their perspective.

This widens out to wider questions about theatre. Monologues may be great for the Fringe, but they are not always filled with dramatic energy. The necessary conflict is often absent (not always, mind: Confirmation had Chris Thorpe fighting himself, live on stage). Just telling a story isn't necessarily theatre - not good theatre, anyway.

I am interested in the dramaturgy, and the ontology, of lap dancing. It is fascinating - although I don't need the nudity that often accompanies it. Live Art gives me enough of that and while the body bared is a strong trope to represent the questions of 'authenticity' and 'honesty' that theatre seems to enjoy, it ends up being a token gesture (again, Naked in Alaska manages to avoid this cliche). The aroma of sex and danger is part of this fascination - the dramaturgy of the lap dancer is about making decisions to get money, or protect the self from a potentially corrosive environment - but the lines it draws in gender politics and social acceptability are more intriguing. And it has a ritualistic aura to it: both punter and performer have roles and everything is determined.

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