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BWW Review: SEE ME NOW, Young Vic

Honest humanity is what we all look for in theatre, and See Me Now at the Young Vic has it in heart-shaped, leather-padded, vibrating spades. Created by the company, which consists of real sex workers, from their own personal experiences and collated into a piece of theatre by HighTide's Molly Taylor, the performance is a captivating collection of human experience within the sex industry and life surrounding it.

Mostly a series of heartfelt and humorous monologues, See Me Now is a one-act performance piece that leads us through the lives of sex workers of all sexualities, genders and ages, and explains how they each came to be part of the industry. The production tackles issues such as drug abuse, sexual abuse and human trafficking, but also incorporates the almost socially acceptable world of high-class escorts and trained dominatrixes.

While the subject matter is difficult and riddled with usually private issues, Taylor's writing coupled with Mimi Poskitt's adept direction allows it to ascend above any discomfort. The company's unblushing descriptions of their sexual deeds and, in particular, Governess Elizabeth's demonstration of her range of sex toys bring a necessary playfulness to the production - and often groans of discomfort from the male audience. See Me Now is about baring all and removing the stigma from sex work, which often forces it behind closed doors and proliferates abuse.

At first, the choice to use real sex workers seems like a questionable decision; they are clearly not actors. However, as it progresses, the rich texture and naked honesty of the production turns untrained delivery into scorching reality. It's possible the piece would be emotionally bankrupt without the powerful immediacy of their personal storytelling.

While as a piece of theatre it is beautifully written, directed and designed, its real power comes from this inherent truth: Adorable's meek nostalgia for the mother she never knew, B's transition and the support of his father, Dee's strength and song, Pan's struggle to grow up between definitions and, perhaps most touching of all, Zariya's struggle to remain whole. When not telling their own story, often the performers will remain scattered around the stage, sometimes appearing as clients and sometimes as moral support.

The multi-talented company turns the production into a veritable smorgasbord of performance mediums, including song and dance, and this often fulfils our desires as an audience to see them succeed within their stories. They never speak directly to each other and this does feel like a loss; we long for them to interact. However, it does serve to heighten their isolation and vulnerability, allowing each of their stories to remain independent. It is constantly surprising, always truthful, often poetic and colossally emotional.

Katrina Lindsay's design is affecting and relevant if somewhat predictable. The row of windows, evoking if not directly replicating a line of windows in the Red Light District, can be either dramatically lit or completely blacked out. It's an effective backdrop to the action and allows most of the performers to remain onstage throughout, as well as offering space for quick changes.

Mike Cunning's lighting is razor sharp and visceral, often making Vicki Manderson's movement seem ethereal. At times Cunning's lighting is even incorporated into the action. Poskitt also ventures to dip the fledgling company into the daunting realms of audience participation. At times the challenge of this is apparent, but its final use is innocently heartfelt. It is here that Look Left Look Right Theatre Company's penchant for immersive theatre comes to the fore.

See Me Now is transgressive, transgender and truly transparent theatre. With standout performances from Dee, Pan and Zariya, and an enriching, engaging dose of intimate truths, the production feels like an unrepeatable feat of sharing. It seeks to teach us, challenge us and change us, but also entertain us. It does all that theatre should do.

See Me Now at the Young Vic until 4 March

Photo credit: Matt Humphrey

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From This Author Kelly McElroy