As the name suggests, Joana Nastari’s ‘F**k You Pay Me‘ is upfront and unapologetic in its intentions; this is a show about sex work for an audience that is willing to confront its own prejudices about the industry, and indeed for sex workers themselves. To this end, it is likely to attract those already sensitive to its message and there was undoubtedly a feel of preaching to the converted among the warm receptive audience. There may be some who baulk at the somewhat didactic tone (evidenced right away by a programme advising how to be a sex worker ally) but if you are willing to listen to and embrace the forthright attitude, there is much to love about this entertaining, thought-provoking and witty piece of theatre.
At its core, this is an exposition of life as a stripper. Nastari, along with special guests, invites us to peer behind the velvet curtains of the strip club and leads us, both metaphorically and literally, backstage. She expertly dissects the theatrical illusion created by the stripper in performance which is, she humorously attests, the holy trinity of ‘mother, virgin and whore’; exposing the personalities, vulnerabilities and everyday practicalities (think tampons with the strings cut off) experienced by those working as strippers. These are at once both hugely relatable and fascinatingly alien to anyone without prior experience. Nastari is a likeable, warm and charismatic presence on stage; she instantly connects with the audience and keeps them engaged and entertained throughout. This all serves to hammer home her message that sex work is a job like any other, carried out by people willingly and in full control of their choices. The point is clear ‘don’t judge, don’t patronise and don’t attempt to rescue them’. In committing to this, however, there is a notable absence of discussion about the exploitation which can occur within the sex industry and those with preconceptions may feel this is not adequately addressed.
Does this matter? Probably not. There are other times and places for that.
What this show does give us is an honest and moving account of sex work, compelling us to listen and pay attention to the voices of those directly involved. It is a passionate riposte to both feminist and conservative critiques of the industry while being genuinely funny, captivating and empowering. Go and see it if you are interested in learning more, if you already think you know it all or even if you just want a thoroughly enjoyable evening.