One of the co-writers and performers of Skinhouse, Kristina Benton, was a sex worker in a brothel who “worked the floor” for five years and spent another ten as a Madam. Admittedly, I wanted to see this play because of the subject matter and, to a small degree, to act as a voyeur in an enigmatic industry I know little about. But, more importantly, I wanted to see it as it promised to deliver a piece that gave the sex worker an identity that debunked the stereotypical versions so often portrayed through the media.
What makes Skinhouse such a genuine and powerful piece of theatre is that it’s written and performed by the two women that the play is factually based on. Kristina and Fleur used to share a house together. Kristina is entrenched in an industry that she’s both addicted to and, yet, haunted by and Fleur (Kilpatrick), her house mate, is inherently curious about Kristina’s work. As Kristina’s anxiety and sense of fragmentation heightens (she has many different names and identities both in and out of the industry), Fleur becomes increasingly concerned for Kristina’s welfare.
This is not a play about the horrors of the sex industry and why Kristina chose to become a sex worker. That Kristina was molested by a babysitter at the age of five lends some reason to her choices but this revelation, although shocking, is purposely not dramatised. In fact, not once throughout this piece is the audience asked to feel sorry for Kristina. Instead we see a woman who is emblematic of the struggle that most of us have felt at some point in our lives and, with this, we begin to identify with her.
As the play evolves, Kristina’s involvement in the sex industry becomes secondary. Skinhouse is really an exploration and an unraveling of the self, the harsh reality of our choices and not really ever knowing why we make the choices we do. Kristina:“If you work out why, let me know.” It’s also a play about the strength and perseverance of our relationship with ourselves and others. The caring and enduring relationship between Kristina and Fleur provides this play an innocence and beauty you might not expect given the subject matter.
And I’m embarrassed to say I brought my own preconceptions and judgments to this play. That it surprised me that Kristina, a former sex worker, is an intelligent, warm and engaging performer proves this. From her opening line I was captivated by her charm and presence. In fact, both women are talented writers and performers as well as proficient singers. Probably the only element that didn’t work for me was the backing track to their songs – it sounded a little out of sync. A musician to accompany these women on stage would have given this, already, wonderful play even greater depth.
Until 3 April