Pros: A glorious celebration of the body in all its unrestrained beauty.
Cons: Some of the arguments purported in favour of the sex working class aren’t as strong as others.
When I accepted the invitation to review Sex Worker’s Opera I expected what was advertised on the tin: an opera where professional opera singers perform side by side with actual sex workers. What I got instead was a strikingly honest insight into the sex industry and its limitations – limitations imposed mainly by the current bureaucracy.
Supported by slogans like ‘Rights no rescue’ the workers address the resistance of public opinion and some political manoeuvres that could compromise the safety of the trade. One of these manoeuvres, called the ‘Nordic Model’, makes the purchase of sex services illegal, a measure that, according to the workers, won’t convince them to change their lives but will force them to carry on under more covert and unsafe circumstances.
More than an actual opera, the ensemble of nine, plus a music quartet, delivers a variety show, constantly swinging between serious and facetious. Vignettes of different length and genre use songs, acting and spoken word to enlighten the audience on some of the most common situations faced by sex workers.
A street hooker is rewarded for her marital advice, a non-binary worker is tied up with the ropes of prejudice and a younger woman is insistently challenged by her sister for her career choices. The most touching moments see a mother explaining to social services why her fifteen-year old daughter shouldn’t be taken from her; a woman whose disability prevented her from retaining a regular job; and a chilling police raid in a venue wherein the workers are treated like cattle. There’s also a minute of silence for all the sex workers who are killed whilst doing their job, in support of the valid argument that the trade needs regulations on safety, not coercive laws.
The argument that sex work is a personal choice is reiterated to the extreme. Although I completely agree with it, I’d like to think that their pessimistic depiction of nine to five and hospitality employment as a living hell – in contrast to their flexible and fulfilling jobs – is not always the case.
The come back after the interval is a show-stopping choreography of pride and skill that I suspect caused a sleepless night for many of us in the audience. Involving the use of a pole, sky-high heels and very little clothing, the piece is smoking hot and celebrates the human body in all its unrestrained beauty. The message behind it is that the job pays the bills but there’s always a human being under the wig and heavy makeup.
For such an entertaining reality check on the industry of pleasure, and the inventive use of technical resources, the show deserves five stars. Overall, though, Sex Worker’s Opera might be a bit niche and quite possibly not the sort of crowd-pleaser you’d go to see with your family.
Original Concept: Clouds Haberberg
Director: Clare Quinn
Musical Director: Alex Etchart
Movement Director: Siobhan Knox
Producer: Ovalhouse and Experimental Experience
Booking Until: 2 December 2017
Box Office: 020 7582 7680
Booking Link: http://www.ovalhouse.com/whatson/booktickets/sexworkers