Review of See Me Now at The Young Vic Theatre
Despite being 'the oldest profession' the stigma surrounding sex workers continues to be perpetuated and examined in an all-too clinical and judgemental fashion. As a piece of theatre See Me Now, created by the Young Vic's Taking Part programme, aims to revert this representation resulting in a refreshingly simple and deeply engaging exposition. Any hint of artificiality in its representation has been cast aside by playwright Molly Taylor who has brought together a set of magnificent and wide ranging accounts that offer continually shifting perspectives on sex work of all kinds, breaking down any sense of taboo or otherness that would stop even the most prudish of audience connecting to these personally erudite narratives.
Accounts range from a West African victim of human trafficking, Adorable to university drop-out Flynt who provides high class escorting services to women of all ages as well as struggling actor Beth who works in the industry in order to pay off her drama school debts and now can't seek other employment due to her criminal record. The eleven accounts are deliberately diverse and take in stories from those who have chosen the industry out of enjoyment and entrepreneurship to those who have been forced into it or arrived there out of desperation. Under Mimi Poskitt's careful and somewhat hands-off direction, the mix of stories works and you never feel artificially manipulated in your emotional response. The mix of voices, gay men, straight women, trans and intersex make for a broad perspective without feeling rudimentary or purposefully curated, instead the approach is multi-faceted and stronger for it.
Confessional theatre has a long tradition of moving audiences. At numerous points I was reminded of Michael Bennett's 1974 experiment where he gathered a bunch of 'gypsies' together in a room, provided them with awful wine and set the tape rolling, asking them to talk about their life, their experience and real-life troubles as a dancer. The show that came as a result of that session, A Chorus Line, provided the commercial sector with a new type of production that felt raw, exposed but also dramaturgically complete. The artifice within See Me Now is broken down – we hear real stories from real people, and rather than feel like a spectacle it's conversational and spontaneous which adds to its many strengths.
One of the most tender moments in the piece comes as the cast invite audience members up on stage to dance with them, finally breaking through the fourth wall that they've been chipping away at throughout the evening and allowing the piece to progress from the voyeuristic tendencies to a fully integrated and connected display of truth and intimacy. Katrina Lindsay's design begins with each performer behind a glass panel door that remains at their control. The audience are invited to look through the glass and break that physical boundary that acts as a strong visual metaphor to the world in which they work – a fragile and segregated slice of society that arguably provides a vital service.
What keeps the piece from wallowing is the overall tone which remains reflective but also hugely celebratory. Stories of human trafficking and abuse are never played for sympathy, instead they're honestly presented amongst lighter moments to keep the overall narrative as wide and diverse as possible.
Perhaps slightly too long, the efforts to extend the deliberate theatricality of the piece can be exhausting. A sequence with lights, music and ticker tape feels extraneous and takes away from the blunt honesty of what comes before and after. Never have I been so taken with one actor sat on a chair and just talking straight to us. It's this simplicity and the rawness of their acting that hammers the boundary between stage and audience and makes this piece truly revelatory.