THEATREclub’s The Game, brought to London as part of the Southbank Centre’s #WOW2017 (Women of the World festival), is a suitably confrontational and superbly structured hour about contemporary realities of (and perspectives on) the sex industry.
The brainchild of Dublin-based THEATREclub, each performance of The Game involves five (entirely different and new) male volunteers who – whilst aware they’ll be participating in a piece to address (and indeed redress) misogyny – don’t quite know what they’ve let themselves in for. Apt, of course, as you doubt many girls who answer seemingly innocent – and even glamorously branded – ads for ‘escort’ services do either. The participants find themselves continually fed uncomfortable lines and stage directions, standing in for the (usually despicable) customers, pimps and outright rapists who feature in the real-life stories the company gathered as part of their research process.
The piece manages to remain ethical whilst ensuring the devices to make it so simultaneously function as smart parallels of how the women represented often function – or can not. The ground rules on every audience member’s seat at the beginning echo the parameters that prostitutes attempt to set for themselves. It doesn’t, of course, mean that every customer will respect them. The ability for the volunteers to tag out if they become too uncomfortable, whilst ethical and necessary in this context, obviously strikes a chord when you know the women represented absolutely could not. And even the lines these participants are trained to regurgitate in a 2-hour workshop earlier in the day whenever they feel the need to distance themselves from what they’re representing – ‘“I am not enjoying this, but I’ll pretend to enjoy it’, for example – clearly have direct parallels with the daily realities of sex work. It’s smart and effective to turn necessary devices into statements in themselves, and a clear indicator of the amount of thought and work behind the process.
A couple of set-pieces, the most confrontational and visually striking moments of the show, are memorable and powerful and downright horrific – but little unrehearsed nuances that come unknowingly from the volunteers (an occasional stutter from a man clearly struggling to even comprehend that another had said these words earnestly, for example), which of course the creators know will happen and embrace, were just as effective for me.
I was nervous beforehand about the sheer enormity and complexity of the issue the piece would attempt to investigate in 60 minutes, but props to THEATREclub (Grace Dyas, Lauren Larkin and Gemma Collins) for not shying away from it for that reason alone. The script is dense but incredibly well-structured, meaning it can and does get away with such a big undertaking. A range of opinions are certainly presented (none more so than in the most abstract and poetic part of the show, at the very start) but I’d argue – to its merit – the piece does settle on a relatively conclusive position in the argument. Prostitution should be decriminalised in the UK because there’ll always be a demand (and therefore supply) for paid sex, and it’s therefore important we focus on the safety and protection of those involved . Agreed, wholeheartedly.
Criticisms are few and far in-between from me. Not the creator’s fault, of course, but the context of the women’s festival and their attendees of course means you could say the production was preaching to the choir. As I’m sure they have and aim to, this is a production which needs to be taken to the less politically-engaged. The volunteers, naturally and as will be the case when they’re invited to participate via an open call, were representative enough of the average ‘male’ for the performance to work – but clearly feminists already. No bad thing, of course, but I hope they’ve perfected a way to reaching and encouraging those without pre-existing ‘feminist’ values to give participation a go too.
All in all, a hugely impressive hour of intensely powerful, political and urgent exploration of an global issue which’ll indeed, sadly, prevail for as long as we’re on this planet. The argument: we could and should be implementing change to protect those involved. Smart use of interactive techniques and devices, paired with dense writing and two confident, passionate performances, made this a production worthy of your time – and, hell, the subject matter demands it.