Caught in the middle of endless politics, sex workers continue to be marginalised and to have their rights violated, the taboo and often illegal nature of their work making it easy for their abuse to go unchallenged and unheard. Permanently Visible Productions’ Hula House, attempts to provide some insight into the lives of sex workers in the UK, highlighting how the UK’s often muddled laws—its criminalisation of certain aspects of sex work—do little to help sex workers or uphold their rights.
Taking place in a private flat in Edinburgh—a ten minute walk from ZOO Southside—the first thing to note is how ironic it is that this venue has been given a public entertainment licence from Edinburgh City Council, at a time when it has been revoking them from many Edinburgh “Saunas”, putting many actual sex workers back at risk.
The show is purposely disorienting and ambiguous in its approach to the audience, and the small space that they are shoe-horned into, puts them in an intimate relationship with a group of strangers (performers and other audience members) that is uncomfortable and indeed meant to be so.
We are given a taste, albeit a mere soupçon, of the uncertain realities of the sex workers’ world, where false names are de rigueur, where the truth isn’t always black and white, and where limits aren’t always respected. The performers flip seamlessly from being in their roles, to being themselves, a constant reminder that sex work is also a performance: there is a real person behind the basque—they provide the Girl Friend Experience but not the Girl Friend.
The audience softened up, the main thrust of the performance comes from recorded interviews from real sex workers, and based on the experience of others, two monologues, one from each performer. These are short, poignant and to the point.
This is a very intelligent and clever piece of work, which on the surface may seem like so much messing about with dildos and butt plugs, but is actually a crafty manipulation of the audience—in other words, theatre. Being immersed in the action in this way, away from the stage proper, is certainly an intense, yet a very worthwhile and unique experience. The performers, Jenny Kondol and Sarah Xanthe, do make themselves very vulnerable in this situation, but as a consequence, they give something very personal and special to the audience.
Although the performance may sometimes make the audience ill at ease, it never goes too far or, more to the point, it never puts them in any actual danger. It is only a Sex Worker Experience after all: we can, at least, leave it behind as we walk out the door.