F*ck You, Pay Me by Joana Nastari
1hr 40 with no interval.
Veronica Stein, 9th May, 2019.
Stepping into the Bunker for F*ck You, Pay Me is like stepping into a 70s daydream, all white fur and feathers. It’s sensual and in the violet lights, quite cool-not grimy, but appealing. And with a couple of rousing guest appearances ranging from burlesque artists to comics FYPM begins with a message that’s loud and clear: this is a show about supporting and ending stigma around sex work, not a takedown of the industry. The words of these people are as worthy of whoops and hollers as their bodies .
After these guest artists take their leave, the core show begins with Nastari giving us the ground rules as the MC of the proceedings, pink suit and wig to boot. And as she strips down (figuratively) to some sweats, we enter the world of her home strip club before the night begins. She’s forgotten her heels, she’ll have to get some from the leftover pile from bygone dancers. Yuck. She catches up with her coworkers. It’s one of FYPM’s best accomplishments, this showing of the idiosyncrasies of stripping and the more unexpected daily tedium. We follow her for the rest of the night as she tries to sell private dances and accrues fines from her manager for having her phone out- her mother keeps calling her because she’s figured out what her daughter is doing to support herself. She introduces us to some of her coworkers who are multifaceted and multi-talented (why would they be anything else?) and the customers who try their hardest to help her ‘out’ when what she really wants is them to pay her for what she’s offering.
It’s a sobering look at a place where many may not have gone and at the very least not from this perspective. Furthermore, it’s a brilliant piece of theatre in many ways. For one thing, Nastari is a powerhouse playwright and performer. FYPM sucks you in with fierce comedy and a rich world of characters, all played by Nastari with brilliant timing and serious presence. Charlotte Bickley doubles as DJ and Nastari’s phone (this could do with some clarification, as she is partially hidden it’s not clear if she should appear to us as voiceover or more of a greek chorus) and provides an ecovative soundtrack and authentic pestering, much like constant notifications. Kuyck-Cohen and Godfrey’s design is lush, vibrant, and transporting. Lofvenberg’s movement direction helps maintain the necessary sexuality and emphasises who holds the power in these transactions, and Pitts’s direction coheres the whole affair as thoroughly deliberate.
Only one section feels like a diversion from the overall success and that is the deep delve into the history of womanhood, through Nastari’s character’s mother through to the gals in caves. Though the purpose appears to be demonstrating the inherent power in being a woman and how stripping uses it, it feels like a distraction. The next iteration- which is highly deserved- can do with restructuring: there is a rambling sense as Bickley begins as MC introducing the guest acts only to then introduce Nastari’s MC to then meld into the protagonist. It might be worth ending with the guests rather than beginning with them.
FYPM does not beat around the proverbial bush: it is a show by sex workers, for sex workers. It’s a love letter to the sisterhood and a callout against bad work practices and worse customers. The greatest irony: despite many potential customers wanting to make assumptions for why she is stripping in the first place (of course with the offensive insinuation that stripping is something to be ashamed of), few people (read:consumers of sex work) want to listen to sex workers when they demand reform. The viewing experience is similarly empowering if you’re open to it. If you’re already an ally you will feel bolstered, and if you feel disconnected you will leave, at the least, aware.
If you feel this is not for you at all and exposed skin is blushworthy, this is perhaps exactly what you should be watching. FYPM makes the point that all that skin and (*ahem*) parts are universal, and so is the struggle of many sex workers: being treated with respect while in the workplace should not be too much too ask. And as you may learn by watching FYPM, neither is a tip.
One: Joana Nastari
The Other: Charlotte Bickley
Special guests to include:
Electric Girl, Stacey Clare, Trixie Tryst, Esmarelda,
Chiyo Gomes, Bunny Boileur, Midnight Shelley, Yara Rodrigues Fowler,
Sian Docksey, Cass Traitor, Lily Lustre, Danni Spooner,
Victor Victorious, Krishna Istha, Prinx Silver
Director: Bethany Pitts
Designer: Naomi Kuyck-Cohen
Sound Designer: Charlotte Bickley
Lighting Designer: Martha Godfrey
Movement Direction by Yami Lofvenberg