F**k You Pay Me at the Bunker
“Hi, I’m Holly and I babysit grown men”, says Joana Nastari as she walks us through a night in one of London’s high-end strip clubs. F**k You Pay Me is not a condemnation or a glamourisation of sex work: it is a platform for performers to talk about the good, the bad and the gross aspects of their job.
The stage, with its white, fluffy backdrop and a small podium flanked with tassels, looks exactly how one would imagine a strip joint. The music and lighting effectively create the illusion of a busy club with loud music and pink lighting before becoming ethereal as we move into more dreamlike segments of the performance.
The production is a mixture of live comedy routine, TED talk-style lecture and one-woman acting show. It starts with Esme Cifuentes, a stripper from San Diego dressed in red bra, pants, garters, stockings and shoes, who delivers a mixture of stand-up and from-the-heart personal experiences. The act starts off high-energy and extremely funny, but it isn’t all comedy. Esme is very open about how a non-disclosed trauma took away her agency and how stripping gave her the confidence to set up boundaries, allowing her to regain her sense of self. It may not be what you’d expect to hear, but that is what F**k You Pay Me is all about: giving strippers the space to address our presumptions. Esme has great stage presence, is very likeable and ensures the show gets off to a great start.
Chiyo (Prinx), a drag king from London’s punk cabaret scene, gives an incredibly energetic striptease in which he takes complete ownership of the stage. His performance feels like a preview and the audience doesn’t really get to hear his experience, but it’s a great, self-contained number which has everyone clapping and cheering.
Nastari, the writer and main performer in tonight’s show, starts off in a glamorous pink pantsuit with huge sparkly shoes, but she soon changes into baggy trousers and a khaki vest to strip back the glamour and take us on an uncensored journey through a night in the life of Holly, a Portuguese stripper working in London.
Holly is tired, her hair is unwashed and she’s avoiding texts from her mum. Her phone (played by Charlotte Bickley) keeps demanding attention as she tries to focus on getting some cash out of tonight’s strip club patrons who, all too frequently, say they want to ‘”save her”.
Nastari’s performance sits somewhere between one-hander, spoken word and physical theatre. Her segment starts out well: the audience “meet” the other strippers and see a strong sense of sisterly loyalty between them; we wince as beer-soaked men completely misunderstand how a strip club works; and the script is rich with descriptive sentences – “your own private Wolf of Wall Street experience”.
Her segment takes a strange turn, however, where everything becomes surreal, with flashing lights, howling wolves and far away lands, none of which have much to do with the story. The section goes on a little too long and feels unwieldy and random in places; though the actress gives a strong performance throughout and is always compelling, the penultimate part of her act feels unnecessary and dragged out.
F**k You Pay Me ends with a strong message which needs to be heard: sex workers are professionals earning a living who deserve respect and safety. Working conditions are not perfect, patrons are often creepy and not all experiences are good, but these strippers are not asking to be saved; they are simply asking to be heard.
Photo: Maurizio Martorana
F**k You Pay Me is at the Bunker from 7th May until 19th May 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.