Created by sex workers, their friends and their families, Sex Workers’ Opera is a show that brings together a collection of verbatim performance, some very funny sketch scenes, dance, poetry, song, video and much more. It is bold and sexy, and although it can feel awkward at times, it has some very touching moments.
Co-directors Alex Etchart and Siobhan Knox use a mother-daughter relationship to frame the action on stage. The mother serves as a tool to question the actions of the daughter, a sex-worker, and comes to represent the voice of ordinary people: those who can never fully understand sex-workers. Presenting the mother in this way allows the action to be naturally guided by questions the mother would like answers to about sex-work, helping audiences understand the characters and their stories.
The piece brings up legitimate and important points raised by those who do sex work as a profession, bringing to light stereotypes and perceived expectations. There is humour in the piece, such as a scene depicting different types of pornography, and what the government deems “acceptable”. But serious issues are also discussed, like the disadvantages of criminalisation, the effects sex work has on people and their families, and the safety of sex workers themselves. Etchart and Knox tackle these issues lightly, with humour and sketch, as well as with some very intimate and touching moments.
The delivery of the stories is authentic, and the sincerity of the performers draws in the audience. For example Vera Rodriguez’s touching story about her life as a sex worker, her abusive partner, and the consequences of their relationship. Her interest in photography shines through the stunning photos projected on the screen. Rodriguez was also one of the strongest performers, the skit between her and her client asking for relationship advice was the funniest moment in the show.
The interactions between mother and daughter were a chance for the audience to question the scenes before and reflect on what they had witnessed. However the repetitiveness of the dialogue in these transitions felt uncomfortable at times. It would have been better if they were kept shorter , which would have helped with the awkwardness of the performances. Additionally, the technical elements of the transitions as a whole were very weak and felt under-rehearsed. This meant there was a lot of waiting and watching people move things around on stage. If they were slicker, this would have cut down on the running time, which at 3 hours (including the interval) feels too long.
This isn’t to say, however, that the show isn’t worth watching. The intriguing characters, their lives, their stories, and how they deal with adversity is the Sex Workers’ Opera‘s soul. The cast is comprised of those who identify as straight, LGBTQI, have disabilities, and hail from around the world, and their diversity is celebrated. The show tackles a serious issue in a very theatrical way, making it accessible, enlightening, and a great show to see.
Sex Workers’ Opera is at The Pleasance until 29th May
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