Tim Spencer presents his new work at this year’s Fringe Festival. Based on true-life interviews, this is the story of student Not-Nick, a Sydney sex worker
The twenty-first century has seen a rash of high-profile more-or-less literary documents detailing the motivations and lifestyle habits of educated, or at least middle-class, sex workers. Not that there has ever been a lack of interest in the profession: the genre of "prostitute memoir" is practically as old as memoir itself. But what seems new about the current crop, those ambitious enough to publish, is their advocacy of prostitution as a sensible career choice for independent-minded sensualists, a return to the courtesan's ancient motto: “controlled by none, accountable to none”.
Such is, essentially, the position of taken by "Nick", the subject of Tim Spencer's latest work of verbatim theatre, Show Me Yours. Nick denies that he was pushed into prostitution by those moral dangers we traditionally associate with the profession ... drugs, abuse, poverty. The reason Nick became a sex worker, we are told, was the thrill of it. It was something he felt he had to do.
Show Me Yours is presented as a series of six interviews between Nick (not his real name), played by Charles Purcell, and Tim Spencer, played by Spencer himself. The interviews we are led to believe are dramatised transcripts of actual interviews conducted between Spencer and a prostitute over a couple of months.
Nick, also a full-time design student, is not really pushed on his motivations for either becoming a sex-worker or for participating in the show. We never really get beyond Nick's assertion of independence and he seems passively hostile to Spencer's ideas for the show, whatever they may be. We learn a few quotidian details about the hows and wheres of Nick's trade, but nothing especially interesting. Indeed the dramatic focus is not really on Nick at all. Purcell plays Nick as emotionally self-sufficient and flatly unsentimental. The game is game. Instead, the frequent pauses in their dialogue all seem directed back at Spencer and his own morbid fascination with sex and personal hang-up about emotional and economic exploitation.
So it's clearly meant to be as much about the process of theatre-making and interviewing as prostitution. Watching Spencer's obsession seems to cure our own interest in all things sordid, and we find ourselves asking, with Nick, 'Why make a show about a prostitute and not a plumber?' At the same time, Spencer's evasions foster a sense of suspicion about the material we're being presented with, like a mirror to Nick's own suspicions. There's under an hour of material here -- how much has been edited, and to what effect? What liberties have been taken with the presentation of Nick's character? Or Spencer's? To what extent is this a recreation of the interview rather than a dramatisation? More troublingly, we begin to ask ourselves about the documentary context. Can we be sure that any of this happened at all? There is little support evidence. How do we know that it's not just a metatheatrical fiction?
These questions seem far more urgent here than moral questions about sex and taboos on discussing prostitution in public. To the extent that this work provokes us to reconsider what is implied by certain modes of theatrical presentation and to question our assumptions about artists and their motivations, this is a particularly clever and engaging piece of theatre.