See Me Now (Young Vic Theatre)
From Katrina Kindsay’s inspired “Amsterdam ‘Red Light District’ Shop Window Booths” design emerge prostitutes. Real ones, not actors. Well, one is, when she can get the chance, but this is her “day job.”
There follows an hour and a half of truth-telling that is by turn funny, sad, shocking, amusing, upsetting, surprising, painful (you would not believe what a dominatrix has that can go where a man… anyway…) and always, always captivating, enthralling, and deeply, deeply moving.
Forget those sensationalist “Channel 4 documentaries” which are mostly of the “come look at the freaks” variety, or at least have a snide “we are better than you” edge to them (“Flynt” recognises and filters out their researchers when they call!). This is the real thing, and the cast are simply people like you and me, who happen to be doing a job. As “Rick” points out – it’s better than being scared and attacked at work… and he is talking about his time as a supermarket assistant.
Some chose the life, “Flynt” found that he could entertain,
“Peter” (above) at 67 works waiting, cleaning and prostitution jobs – and finds the last the least interesting (another stranger wanting to, well, anyway, when he really can’t be bothered, but has a mortgage to pay). “Beth” uses it to deal with drama school debts – and (thanks to a conviction during which police humiliated her worse than any client, she says), she can’t even work in acting much any more; while “B” used it as a sideline and “Governess Elizabeth” as a springboard for academic research (and teaching others).
Others fell into it,
addict Jane (above), and broke singer Dee found a way to make money as life crumbled. “Pan” found acceptance through it, in a world where gender identity fluidity can be a positive. Two others, “Adorable” (who lives up to her name) was trafficked from her home country, while tiny and talented dancer “Zariya” came the “abused as a child” route that might just be the one audiences most expect. The fact she is “owned” by someone for a brief period makes her feel, in a twisted way, safe.
This is no litany of “who did what to me and when,” but a fully-fledged performance.
Stories are told, equipment demonstrated, talents for music and character acting revealed. “B” – a sort of Matthew Lucas clone – plays an ancient courtesan, Nell Gynn and “Madam Cyn,” with the audience (literally) involved… for the record, I was NOT at the party as she claimed… and I can prove it… I think… if I can find the luncheon vouchers… er.. moving quickly on…
The tenderest moments are the noisiest, a party sequence with outlines on the floor; the use of light and movement to describe emotion – and a final chair-top revelation. All by real people, no performances. In fact, as I remarked to the person beside me, I’d even like to see it with actors, just to examine the text for interest. A blank look was the response, but there is a second piece here, underlying the reality, that I think would bear a parallel drama experience.
That bit of theatrical philosophy on my part dispensed with, the truth is that this can only be done with those who created it, and it makes it the unique experience that it is. If only one point can be taken, it is that each and every person on the stage is no different to the people watching. If B and Jane and Pan in particular may turn heads or cause a wider berth to be steered… this production begs seeing them – along with the work they and the others do – with fresh eyes in future.
It’s an un-repeatable and bold piece of experimental theatre, and one of those productions that makes me fall in love with the theatrical all over again. Real people being honest and communicating uninhibited, unbiased and uncensored ideas drawn from life experiences, to an engaged audience, is all that theatre should be. If only there were a way to transfer it to a wider audience, but such is true theatre, it is fleeting.
An enriching experience, that truly brings a whole new perspective on life to all who were lucky enough to see them now.
Photo credit: Matt Humphrey. Used by kind permission of the Young Vic Theatre, and indeed the performers, whose privacy is theirs even as they share their lives with us.