This boisterous, joyous piece falls more under the umbrella ‘political art’ rather than plain ‘theatre’ – a slightly ramshackle whirlwind through the trials, lives and political leanings of those onstage. The Sex Worker’s Opera focusses entirely on giving these so-called ‘invisible’ people in society the chance to tell their stories, fighting against the stereotyping and victimization they encounter from public and personal acquaintances alike.
Siobhan Knox, Claire Quinn and Alex Etchart have put together a highly personable ensemble, consisting of a mixture of allies, past and present sex workers. The evening takes the form of a large combination of short(ish), sketch-like scenes composed to challenge society’s stereotypical view of sex work (think Vivienne in Pretty Women, Mimi in La Traviata). It is clear from the start that the end goal of the piece is not to present a technically-accomplished piece of theatre – it seems an emotive and passionate affair rather than a piece which hits all the theatrical checkpoints. Many of the performers themselves are glorious (a particular highlight being Charlotte Rose’s adventures with courgettes, squash and a pineapple) and the band are truly spectacular, multitasking between a challenging score as well as taking multiple roles in the scenes themselves. The point of speaking with sex worker voices and not having to speak for them is wonderfully put, as are more political sections detailing police raids and the incomprehensibility of porn censorship. Anal beads made of sprouts raise a huge laugh, as does some joyous, rather theatrical squirting in a corner.
However, the tension between wanting to give everyone a voice, thereby showcasing as much as possible and yet create a tight piece of theatre is rather clear within the piece. The entire show could do with a colossal trim, and some moments especially suffered from a marked lack of clarity, not allowing the audience to understand the emotional state of those performing and therefore lessening the impact the stories had. The central plotline of a sister trying to convince her sibling to stop sex work was lazy – exploring the points against sex work would have leant much more credence to when the ensemble put them down, and asking someone to walk onstage six times during the show with apparently no variation in lines each time quickly becomes irritating.
Nonetheless, this is a fine piece of ensemble work dedicated to fighting against a stigma engrained in society for centuries. If you like your evenings frank, sexy and with a decent dollop of wry humour, then The Sex Worker’s Opera is the one for you.