Poet and playwright Sabrina Mahfouz spent several years working in strip clubs so she brings an insider’s eye along with a rhythmic, gripping delivery to her solo show about a young stripper.
Nina is 24 but feels older; her nights are spent swatting off pin-striped types in the club where she works, while her boyfriend, a would-be street art dealer, likes to parade her in front of his posh art world acquaintances at dinner parties. Dry Ice isn’t a harrowing expose of Nina’s world, but neither is it blind to the toll such work exerts. The opening sequence in which Mahfouz dons protective gear to ward off the various splatters and hazards of life in a strip club epitomizes this; it’s upfront yet amusing, fresh and unexpected, as is the sequence in which she breaks down the four main types of customer: the sweaty-necked, the pseudo-sensitive, the fantasy man.
Mahfouz has a rapid, rattling performance style, her striking imagery skimming out at the audience. The language is lyrical and rippling but though the show is rooted in the writing, in her words, it also succeeds as a piece of theatre. Mahfouz is an able stage performer with a facility for voices; she can slide in and out of accents with ease and is able to differentiate between a large cast of characters with only a few swift strokes.
Directed by David Schwimmer the production avoids the static trap of some spoken word shows. Mahfouz stands in a circle of light with her one prop, a white chair. The way she moves with this chair – peering over it, sliding under it, tipping and flipping it – brings a physical dimension to what is essentially a verbal piece; it’s a simple but reasonably effective way of shaping and splitting her material. Costume changes help break things up further but these feel less necessary.
The production has tightened and tautened since previews at the New Wimbledon Studio earlier in the year. Schwimmer has since come on board, and Mahfouz appears more confident as a performer, while the wit and richness of the writing is better conveyed. The ending, while elegant and tender, still feels a little hurried, a little abrupt, and there’s a sense that the piece could potentially be bigger, broader, bolder in its storytelling, but regardless of this it has a real sense of energy – and it never hurts to leave the audience wanting more.
Read Sabrina Mahfouz’s article on the relationship between performance poetry and theatre.