Theatre Review: The Girlfriend Experience @ Young Vic

By Londonist Last edited 105 months ago
Theatre Review: The Girlfriend Experience @ Young Vic

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Lu Corfield (Poppy) and Debbie Chazen (Tessa)
In the 70's, before sunbed parlours became a feature of every high street, there was a particularly cheap one behind a shopfront in the Caledonian Road. Possibly the first clue to its true purpose was that the receptionist was a fifty-something Romany baroness in an off-the-shoulder string vest and the menu of services tacked to the pegboard partition included "two-girl deluxe assisted shower".

Nonetheless it was a great place to while away an office lunchtime with a sunbed and a cheese toastie, watching "Crown Court" with the working girls until they struggled in to their bustiers to answer the calls which began straight after lunch. We are in the same cosy territory at the Young Vic where Alecky Blythe's The Girlfriend Experience delivers a verbatim-recorded slice of life in basement brothel just off Bournemouth seafront.

Four mumsy, treacly tarts whose bodies are as plumply upholstered as the DFS sofas on which they slump offer a range of polite personal services to a succession of punters all played with dexterous physicality by Alex Lowe. Their bored routine revolves as much around dad's hospital appointment and daughter's school report as how to deal with the cum dumpers, and their sentimental yearning for romance is genuinely touching.

It's static, though, and all the comedy is in the dirty or rueful observations of the roly-polys who like to distance themselves from the popular image of prostitutes as portrayed by the tabloids or Jeremy Kyle. Indeed, these women are more addicted to crisps than crack. The one moment of dramatic tension comes when a vigorous punter presses his case for immediate satisfaction on a weakly resistant new girl in a beautifully worked scene between Lowe and Lu Corfield's morosely defeated Poppy.

The foursome is captained by Debbie Chazen from BBC3's "Tittybangbang" with a sustained performance switching instantly between on-demand voluptuousness and good housekeeping, and whilst a lot of the humour sounds like her sketch material, it's given hyper-realistic immediacy and credibility by the direct-transcript dialogue and the overlapping speeches. Joe Hill-Gibbins' subtle direction never judges these women for a second, and neither do we.

By John Holt

The Girlfriend Experience is on at the Young Vic until 15th August. Tickets £22.50.

Last Updated 07 August 2009