Review: ★ Sex Worker’s Opera, Ovalhouse

The title is incredibly intriguing, it’s taboo and it’s an important topic to create art around. Unfortunately the Sex Worker’s Opera at Ovalhouse by Experimental Experience didn’t manage to do anything but disappoint. A ‘show’ performed and created by 50% sex workers, having done extensive research from over 17 countries should really be able to wow the audience, but they were left with a feeling of school production.

To touch on a few positives: there was amazing live music, absolutely amazing pole dancing skills and one could feel the research that had gone in to the project – though mostly because the performers told you repeatedly.

The most pertinent of the negatives, though, was that it was not an opera. There was singing, although it was filled with very questionable notes and harmony. It was very evident that most of the people in the show were not actors or singers, and some of them actually looked like they did not want to be there, which made the audience want to be there even less. Although the point was to have sex workers tell their own stories, they could have benefitted from cutting an hour from the show (which totalled 2 hours and 27 minutes) and focussed on getting the basic skills of their performance up to a professional level.

There were several warnings of violence, which was appreciated because it could trigger the audience – but in practice there was very little violence. That was a shame – at least violence would have made the audience feel something. In a show about such a sensitive topic, you would expect to feel anything, really.

In its defence – people laughed, but the humour was cheap and tasteless, and a lot of members of the audience were not taking it seriously. That could be caused by the absolute confusion of genre. One moment it was serious and trying to move people, but they didn’t have a chance to be moved because the show went straight into a sloppy comedic choreography, to a naked interpretive dance by a trans woman, to a rave party where they all screamed ‘we honour the dead by celebrating life’.

So, messy is the best way to describe it. Even the costumes and make up were messy. The messiest part was when they decided to have a one minute silence for all the sex workers who lost their lives (with an already silent audience), but one of the actors was loudly faffing around with props in the background during this moment of respect, which again absolutely contradicted what they were trying to accomplish.

This production could really use some actual knowledge in theatre. The idea of giving the sex workers themselves a voice and a platform for their stories is wonderful, but they need guidance to do their stories justice. With this amount of research on such an important topic it has so much potential, but just no idea on how to make that work on a stage. Which is such a shame, because it’s a social stigma that should be touched on way more than it is. If people went to the theatre to admire research, this would get a lot more than 1 star. Unfortunately that is not the case and from a theatrical point of view, this was a poor performance and not worth spending 2.5 hours on.

Reviewed by Yasmin Simsek. 

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