Dirty Works: Sex, Drugs and a Lot of F***ing C***s
It took about a half-page of dialogue from playwright Jamie Linley's Dirty Works, now in it's premiere production courtesy of the Stiff Upper Lip company, for me to be reminded of that episode of I Love Lucy where the Ricardos are vacationing in London. Lucy is a bit lost trying to find Buckingham Palace or someplace like that so she asks a passing gentleman for directions. He turns out to be one of those fellows who speaks with a deep, fast, growling dialect, seasoned with local expressions. After the obligatory confused mugging, Lucy interrupts him and explains, "I'm American. I don't understand English."
Stiff Upper Lip's mission is to bring plays from London's Fringe (or in this case, before London's Fringe gets it) and mount them with all-British casts of New York based actors. Linley, making both his playwriting and acting debut with this production, based Dirty Works on his experiences living among those on the lower rung of sex workers and drug dealers living off of unemployment assistance in London's slums. The play's press material explains, "As a group of unemployed nobodies seek, by turns, gratification, competitive advantage and redemption through their trafficking in sex and narcotics, it becomes glaringly clear that those who capitalize on others' misfortune will outlast the rest. However, when the comrades capitalizing share nothing but needles and bad blood, the advantage won't be for long." I'm quoting the press release because quite honestly, despite my efforts to actively listen, I had no idea what was going on.
To be fair, the pre-show conversations I overheard in the lobby and auditorium seemed to indicate the audience was made up of a great deal of Britishers, and they seemed to be getting all of it, giving a strong hand for the actors at curtain calls. But I wish American director Kevin Kittle had asked his cast to lighten up a little on the accents so that we yanks could be in on it, too. And a glossary in the program would have been handy. I know what a "wanker" is but it took me a while to catch on what's meant by "punter". I suppose most Americans know what a "geezer" is but I had no idea Brit drug traffickers used the word so frequently.
But the two words that always came in loud and clear throughout the 90-minute piece were "f***ing" and "c***". Now look, I have no objection to using that sort of language in a play. Those words can be just as necessary as "and" and "the" when writing dialogue for a specific character. But when every character in the play seems to precede every noun with "f***ing" and describes everyone who annoys them as a "c***", it leaves the impression that the playwright may need to learn a few more adjectives and metaphors. Although the frequency with which these words are used may be authentic, when put on stage the results become sadly comical.
A mum sips from a bottle of Guinness while her son (a Heineken drinker) sits next to her on the coach for what passes for a heart-to-heart. "Your dad was a c***", she tells him. Then she just keeps repeating, "A c***, c***, c***, c***, c***", before lunging at him with, "And you're a c***, too!"
Later on, a pimp tenderly confesses to his prostitute girlfriend, "I f***ing love you, you c***.", and then proposes they run away together with those three little words every woman longs to hear, "Let's f*** off."
I'm not going to comment on the actors because what I did understand about the play seemed to indicate everyone was limited to playing one-dimensional types in a series of quick scenes that tried to present a slice of life without any kind of dramatic through-line. They kept their dignities.
But I will say that the two birds playing strippers, Polly Lee and Louise Traynor, both looked fetching while pole dancing in their knickers. I suppose that's for the benefit of us f***ing wanker geezer c***s in the audience.
Photos by Charlotte Nation
Top: (l-r) Martin Ewens, Polly Lee, Louise Traynor, Victor Villar-Hauser and Jamie Linley
Bottom: (l-r) Victor Villar-Hauser and Jamie Linley