Thursday, 20 August 2015

I Defend A Fellow Critic, admit to paying for sex...

Few things have given me more pleasure during this year's Fringe than standing up in The List's office and announcing that I am off to see a prostitute. It might be antics like this that have led to my relocation to a small room just off the main office, where I sit next to the publisher, and can't distract my fellow workers.

And it was probably a lot less amusing the second time I did it...

Both menage and Hula House are intimate, site-specific (not in a theatre) shows about sex work. They have different aims - menage is a montage of verbatim stories, Hula is a polemic for legislation. They share the conceit of using a flat, however, to recreate the experience of a sexy visit to a lady of the night.

Mark Brown once described tragedy as all about sex and death. The attraction of shows about strippers and sex workers is probably sex and money. When those two team up, whacky adventures are sure to follow.

Anyway, I don't want to pick on Hula House - it doesn't quite work for me but the performers give a great deal and clearly believe in their message - and I don't want to defend Lyn Gardner. I am, however, going to do the latter, and hope it doesn't upset the two women who made this audacious work.

The Guardian being what it is, Gardner's scathing review is followed by comments (from people who have not seen the show) saying how her review is determined by her stance on sex work. They attack her on the grounds that she makes judgements, not arguments (there is a debate around which one of these is the critic's job), and observe that other people - Sally Stott - liked it. 

I think that's the same Sally Stott who spent one Fringe having a go at burlesque, and caused the most glamorous protest in Scottish history.

I don't know where my politics are on this. I haven't researched it. I'll have an opinion one day, when I spend a few hours reading up about it, and Hula House has certainly encouraged me to think about it.

But it is not Gardner's job - and she does not actually do this - to say whether the politics are wrong or right. Her job is a theatre critic and she does critique the performance. 

So, I am going to talk about my experience of Hula House again, and dwell on one moment.

It is the moment when they have a quiz and ask: who has paid for sex?

Mum? Stop reading now.

I put up my hand, alone of all the room. Not because I have, obviously.

No, look, really, I haven't. I'm not saying it is wrong for women to sell sex, not at all, just that... I don't pay for theatre tickets, I'm the homeless critic, do you think I can afford it? And I do have a problem with the commodification of intimacy.

Also, my medication has killed my libido.

Anyway, I put up my hand, expecting to be engaged in a witty banter about where and when (I had this really cool answer, too), but they just went onto something else.

I was left with my hand up in front of my colleague and friend Joyce MacMillan. I had humiliated myself. I blushed. I realised that everyone in the room was thinking the same thing about me.

The question was pointless - don't ask if you don't care, and how did this move the action forward? Sure, feeling uncomfortable was part of the process, and I guess it is a rare thing for me to feel. Later on, I was sat on a bed with one of the actors all tied up next to me. I probably ought to have felt uncomfortable then. But I was admiring the colour scheme of her red and black cuffs.

Hula House aren't the only company guilty of this, but sometimes the dramaturgical choices - in this case, the decision to make the show immersive - are not always considered. 

And the content never justifies weak structure, or abusing the trust of the audience. In fact, not thinking it through is the only abuse of trust possible in theatre.

Discuss. I'm not sure about that last statement. 

No comments :

Post a comment