Mid evening at Space Triplex and the Glass Moon Theatre Company’s “The Sacred Obscene” is taking us behind the scenes at a London strip club. Thankfully, we get to see some of the action on stage as well. Our trouble is that this talented all-singing, all-dancing, no-nudity cast put on a night of wholesome entertainment for us, dancing around happily in their underpants, whilst the play’s morality is somewhat less pure. The heart and soul of “The Sacred Obscene” remain stuck in the kitchen sink.
We gaze at these strippers and their tiny miseries through that concerned middle-class gaze. That same concerned middle-class gaze through which the poor, the exploited, the weak are, through some obstruction of the eyesight, never quite entirely realistic. Innovatively, perhaps, this London strip club is made to appear as dull to its employees as any workplace. The boss Mama Rose (Joelle Montoya) is always snorting impatiently and her mind runs on the sole theme of profit. Some of the girls don’t pull their weight; there is one, Sapphire (Ruth Tinker) who is a “workaholic.” But the student stripper Klio (Caitlin Staebell), a baby who just wants to pay off her tuition fees, and Amber (Kate Novak), who has the inevitably put out boyfriend waiting up at home, are characters which are always used as bricks in soap operas and undistinguished television dramas.
Due to these overly plain characters and their Brookside mentality, the melodrama plods. One has the impression that Klio and Amber only get into such travails because they lack the imagination or streak of cunning which is needed to sort out their problems. They have been burdened with the plain soap-opera minds of those people who live in soap operas. Henceforth “The Sacred Obscene” produces nothing more than a feeling of channel-flicking distance in the audience. We dutifully respect these women because their lives must be very hard, but their problems seem to be both too unremarkable and too much of drama. They’ll be another boyfriend – she’ll pay off her tuition fees one way or another – so what, so what?
If I have taken against this play, it is because of its pretentiousness. Pretentious is the title and the accompanying explanation about the title in the programme (it is a quote from, of course, the American Jungian spoken word artist Clarissa Pinkola Estés). Pretentious is the device of having a single male actor (Peter Collington) playing all of the male parts in the show, as a kind of everyman man, to apparently indicate that all men have some common relationship with the stealthily manipulative female. I certainly don’t – I find stripping, at least in these sorts of bars, to be as unerotic as a grimy, cold bath.
On the other hand, it doesn’t do to take against “The Sacred Obscene,” for the simple reason that the cast are hardly scoundrels. Staebell works wonders with Klio, giving her a vim and vividness which makes you rue the opportunities that are missed with this character. Collington hops nimbly between the different men. The play never tires or slows down, though it does appear to have been dressed up rather skimpily. Its moral bareness is covered here and there with a pretty song from Montoya or some sudden, exuberant dancing from Klio. Still, if we find the stage to provide a relief from the back rooms, it is not evident what point this play has really made.