TheatreClub is known for their politically and socially challenging work. From work about drug addiction to the troubles in the north, Grace Dyas and the rest of this theatre company aren’t afraid to bring the realities of people living with these issues to the forefront and provoke a conversation.
The Game gives us arguments from different sides on the sex industry debate. Inspired by Rachel Moran’s book Paid For: My Journey Through Prostitution and developed with her, other women who have exited and are still working in the sex industry, as well as punters.
On stage we have Gemma Collins and Lauren Larkin, alongside male volunteers (on this occasion there were three) who have volunteered “to help redress misogyny”.
These men are here to help Gemma and Lauren re-enact stories which they have collected in their research, and to observe their reactions to these situations, and how they differ to punters.
Their lack of information given of what exactly will happen on stage results in a few timid men, giving us moments of light humour.
It starts energetically, welcoming the audience to The Game, telling us that they don’t want to tell us what to think, but that “there is something here at stake”.
While we have upbeat music and interactions at the start resembling a tv game show, it quickly becomes full on in its portrayal of sex work.
We see is a 15-year-old being picked up by a punter, and then dropped off when he becomes horrified upon learning her age. We then see a university student whose punter asks “what do you do?” and as she tells him about her life, he clarifies that he meant sexually and her reaction of feeling utterly dehumanised.
We hear the men read out online reviews from actual punters, some glowing, some complaining about the lack of enthusiasm of the women.
We have accounts of women saying that because they screen their punters and are careful to stay safe, that they are happy in their work, and that they need the legislation to protect them and not push them underground.
These scenes of the happy hooker are immediately met with their antithesis of women forced into prostitution due to economic circumstances and with histories of sexual abuse.
Collins and Larkin show us in no apologetic way the harrowing stories exposing the vulnerability of sex workers when they are with their punters; from refusing to wear condoms to becoming violent and endangering their lives.
Arguments around legislation and social consequences are brought up, such as the difficulty with going to the police when they are raped and the idea that the availability of prostitutes prevents men from raping other women. They question whether misogyny will always exist or whether it can be ended.
This piece genuinely does give equal time to different arguments, but the portrayals of women forced into sex work, and who are abused and threatened are the most affecting and pertinent in a debate that is centred in the frame of a capitalist and misogynistic society. For the most part this show focuses on individual sex workers, with only one of the women working in a brothel, and another pressured into sex work by her boyfriend, meaning that pimps are not featured as much as they do exist.
This is not so much a criticism of the play as it is a recognition of the limited time to explore experiences and policies surrounding sex work.
Socialists should take a principled position in recognising the importance for sex workers to be protected and to be able to organise, while opposing the industry for its intrinsically sexist roots and the profiteering of pimps and brothel owners from the commodification of women.
This show is an important piece of work for engaging with the public to open the debate, working to remove the stigma that is placed on women in the sex industry and urging the audience to seriously consider the different aspects involved in order to work towards a solution that is truly in the best interests of women and society.
Strong performances from Larkin and Collins in this well researched show make for a powerful theatre experience.
This kind of work, which aspires to begin conversations and affect change should also be encouraged and commended.
Challenging and striking, it is clear why this piece has pulled in audiences internationally.