In any major town in the UK, there will be a number of ‘gentlemen’s clubs’ that will cater for ‘exotic dancing’. To minimise antagonism with residents, these venues are often central or near financial areas. For those who ‘dance’ at such venues. it can be rewarding financially, but it’s not a living that one can talk about openly – at least not to those outside of this world. In Fuck You Pay Me, we follow Bea (Joana Nastari), a dancer during a Saturday night shift at her workplace.
Before the play ‘properly’ begins, Nastari addresses the audience for a good five minutes about what they’re about to see and salutations to everybody in ‘adult entertainment’, whatever niche it may be. Nastari also makes allusions to strip joints and the women who work there as ‘witches’ – making the metaphor about them being society’s carnal, female outcasts very apparent. In some ways it doesn’t have anything to do with the main narrative, but the rapport that Nastari establishes with audience at that time and confronting the elephant in the room – yes, this is a play about a stripper – really breaks the ice and dovetails seemlessly into Bea’s life.
A vignette of Bea’s drinking escapades the night before sets the scene, with her subsequent hangover very apparent. With Bea’s phone her only ‘companion’ and ‘conscience’ (voiced by Kitt Proudfoot) the play hurtles along, replete with the minutae of a shift. Fines are given freely for the slightest misdemenour – arriving to work late or looking at one’s phone – and in Bea’s haste, she’s forgotten her ‘costumes’ and her house fee to the management to work that evening…
Working with a group of women in a ‘male’ environment, there is a camaraderie between the dancers, though having other women foisted on them from other clubs ignites their territorial instincts – ‘us’ and ‘them’. As for the male clientele, there is a predictabily, ranging from being ‘propositioned’, to ‘well-meaning’ men suggesting “What do you really want to do with your life?” An intrusive line of questioning perhaps, but the play does touch open upon why anybody signs up for this line of work. If one has the nerve and is unfazed by being in a state of undress, for some women they can earn a lot of money in a short amount of time – hence the vocation’s popularity with students.
For Bea, she spends her money as quickly as she earns it, but this isn’t a problem as she’s popular and good for several more years. The gravy train isn’t going to end soon. Right? However, in the words of John Lennon, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Cue Bea’s mother. A woman of Catholic Brazilian heritage, she would take a dim view of this line of work at the best of times. And she’s just found out how Bea earns her money. “We need to have a chat…”
The close of the play – a coda of sorts which is tonally different from the rest of the show – reminded me of Eliseo Subiela’s Don’t Look Down, where the visions of faraway places accompany ‘ecstasty’. While Bea being able to see outside of herself is open to interpretation, it does lend itself to the assumption Bea has a clearer view of the past, her heritage and that there is more to her than her present life.
Also, while Bea’s sisters make a brief appearence, there’s certainly scope for a second play about Bea or another character in the same profession that explores relationships with family, and friendships ‘in’ and ‘out’ of ‘the biz’.
© Michael Davis 2018
Fuck You Pay Me ran at the Vault Festival from 24th-28th January.