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The Girlfriend Experience

Alecky Blythe
Royal Court Theatre Upstairs
(2008)

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Alecky Blythe has been the British pioneer of the strand of Verbatim Theatre known as recorded delivery. She records subjects and then asks actors to relate their utterances, pauses and all, on stage. In order to do this, they wear bulky headphones and player packs, through which the real words are played for repetition.

The theory is that this is as close as it is possible to get to real life in a theatre. For some reason, it doesn't come out like that, being neither fish nor fowl.

The Girlfriend Experience takes audience members into the cheapest brothel in Bournemouth, peopled by four extra busty (their term) prostitutes of rather more advanced years than TV shows might lead one to expect from practitioners of this profession.

Miss Blythe's thesis is that working girls are just like anyone else, doing a mundane job in order to make a living. She proves the point, but as we all know, spending 90 minutes watching people at work is deadly dull.

The methodology also fails to achieve its goal. The gear is off-putting and for whatever reason, the dialogue and intonations sound less natural than scripted work. This may in part be because the women played up for the microphones in an attempt to make themselves more interesting and loveable. As well as the punters, they talk of elusive searches for love and in one case, a bright daughter who passes lots of GCSEs.

These two drawbacks are then accentuated by the editing. In order to make the play into a journey, several months of interviews are soldered together, which detracts from the fly-on-the-wall realism but still doesn't add enough of a journey to hold the attention.

The most fascinating part of the evening for some might be the reactions of the supposedly sophisticated Sloane Square audience. During the performance under review, at the merest mention of sex, the mature viewers were sniggering like teenagers. Anticipating such an effect, the script relies on this salacious comedy far too often in what is supposed to be a serious look at women at work.

The evening's shortcomings should not detract from the efforts of a hard-working cast led by Debbie Chazen as the Madam who has made her cathouse "homely" and Beatie Edney playing her sidekick.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher