Masterpieces: A Clunky, Dated Attack On The Sex Industry

Masterpieces, Finborough Theatre ★★☆☆☆

Neil Dowden
By Neil Dowden Last edited 14 months ago

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Masterpieces: A Clunky, Dated Attack On The Sex Industry Masterpieces, Finborough Theatre 2
Photo: Bill Prentice

Staged for the first time in London since its 1983 premiere, Sarah Daniels’ Masterpieces — a feminist attack on the sex industry and the misogynist mindset that underlies it — has not dated well. It’s not the fact that since then internet porn has transformed the whole area, or that sexually abusive behaviour has disappeared — far from it, as we know from the #MeToo campaign. The problem is that the play is used too much as a vehicle for a message.

The clunky plot hinges on an implausibly naive female social worker being radicalised by looking through a porn magazine for the first time. There are some awkward time shifts, with an early scene of three couples at a dinner involving sexist jokes being followed by one of the women in court accused of murdering a man.

Photo: Bill Prentice

There are brief monologues by a male producer, distributor and consumer of pornography justifying their activities, before we see these attitudes played out at home and in the workplace. Daniels’ point is that there is a pyramid with casual sexism at the bottom leading to violence against women at the top, but it is too schematically enacted with all the men portrayed as bastards.

The multi-roling cast make a good effort without making the drama credible. Director Melissa Dunne uses 80s love songs between scenes as a sort of commentary on the action. And designer Verity Quinn plasters the walls with porn mag covers of women displayed like slabs of meat behind translucent butcher’s curtains.

Masterpieces, Finborough Theatre, 118 Finborough Road, SW109ED. Tickets £16-£20. Until 19 May 2018.

Last Updated 30 April 2018