Fuck you. Pay her.
Holly is a stripper. She’s a witch. She’s a Goddess. She is ethereal.
F**k You Pay Me is a massive middle finger pointed high into the air, reaching above and over the rooftops of Edinburgh, casting a shadow over every person who’s ever looked another human in the eye and shamed them for what they decide to with their bodies. The smell of incense greets the audience as they enter [her] space and ambient lounge plays over our heads. Smoke lines the corners of the stage and as the lights go down she emerges. Dressed in a red glittering pantsuit, sunglasses, red lipstick, and massive shiny silver heels, Joana Nastari glides into the space. She shows us a book, a bible, a gospel, that lays out the rules of this space, of her space. No shaming. No touching. Respect your sisters. Her voice runs like melted chocolate out of her pursed lips, dripping onto the audience like a sweet perfume. Entranced, we listen, look, admire. Her stature is huge; it is almost as if she is towering above us on her heels, looking over us, keeping us safe with long fingers and lacquered nails.
She is the Holy Trinity – Mother / Virgin / Hoar
Then suddenly, she’s Bea. Working in a strip club in London and getting by. Men ask her where she’s from, no where she’s really from, can I touch you, sorry I’m just here for a drink. Her phone speaks to her from the back of the theatre, reminding her that her mother is calling her endlessly. Normally, this would be a theatrical device that I’d hate, but the way Kitt Proudfoot and Nastari play off each other works well and it brings out Bea’s character. The theatricality of this show isn’t always tight and the devices seem a little overdone, but nonetheless Nastari’s power shines through. The best moments are those that dive into a more surrealist vision of the world. After pouring a pint of beer over herself in a moment of defiant glory, she’s now clad in her nude coloured sports bra, pants, and knee pads. Bea swims back through her heritage, morphing into her mother’s grandmother in Brazil, and then a ship sailing from Italy, telling her stories of home. Then she is a wolf in a jungle, howling into the night; resistant and unbreakable. Smoke swirls and circles the stage, engulfing her in a cloud of hot, sweaty ecstasy. Sometimes, she breaks into performance poetry, standing with her microphone, centre stage asking us to listen.
I tried so hard to not make this emotional. To not let this get to me. I am so angry that you can look at her, that you can look at someone who has worries and dreams and a favourite song and a childhood home and tell them that they are not good enough. That they are better than what they have chosen to do with their bodies. Bodies that have always and will always belong to them. That your entitlement overrides your decency.
This government does not protect these women. By refusing to understand sex work, they put them in more danger.
Sex work is work.
Nastari’s character, Bea, finally talks to her mum about her job. Her mum says she’s not disappointed because she would rather she raised her daughter to be a good person, a kind person, than someone who created harmful policies or exploited workers from their glistening office. It’s at this point that I want to cry. Then her male co-star congratulates her for ending on a dignified note, and well done that she didn’t reveal herself. Well, fuck that. She tells him to put her song on and dances for herself.
Fuck you. Pay them.
We worship her for the deity she is. It’s not about empathy, it’s about stigma. This play does not exist to educate, but to revel in the glory of the women who go out and work and do what they want, how they want. F**k You, Pay Me feels vital. It feels like a lifeline.
F**k You, Pay Me is on at Assembly Rooms until 26th August. Book tickets here.