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Review: A Body at Work at La Mama HQ

Review by Emily White

Melbourne’s own queer sex worker with a heart of gold, Frankie van Kan (aka Frankie Valentine), has brought her debut solo show, A Body at Work, to La Mama HQ for Midsumma Festival. Combining storytelling with stripping, the show is celebrating her body and the work it has done over a decade and a half in the sex industry — a TED talk with extras for fellow sex workers and those curious to learn more.

The sense of play begins before the audience has taken their seats, with the front of house announcement warning patrons of prominent displays of labia — and that if they are labia-adverse, this is not the show for them. 

Inside the theatre, we are greeted by Frankie lounging on a massage table, a tableau of comfort in tracksuit and ugg boots. Comfort and pleasure will often come up against their opposite throughout the hour-long show, as Frankie discusses the draws and drawbacks of working in strip clubs and erotic massage parlours. She makes it clear from the beginning that she was there because she wanted to be, because she loved it, challenging the popular narrative of the reluctant woman selling her body to fund her “real” life only from a lack of other viable options. 

With direction by Maude Davey, whose work often centres the body in transgression, Frankie is in good hands. A lot of ground is covered in a short time as Frankie unpacks the biases and contradictions that exist between sex work and queer liberation, feminism, motherhood. It is academic discourse meets sensual intimacy, the rigour of a thesis delivered with the warmth of a hug. 

The use of space compliments this perfectly, with the (appropriately named) thrust staging meaning Frankie is at times enveloped by the audience but her stage presence is so huge it feels the other way around. Frankie’s performance radiates a calm sensual energy. She is clearly at ease in front of an audience, in various stages of undress, a consummate professional even on opening night of her debut solo work. 

The show incorporates spoken storytelling with the very performance style being spoken about — a strip tease in this theatre space is at first a bit stilted. But Frankie manages to coax the audience away from quiet and respectful to loud and appreciative, as it should be.

The simple set and costume pieces are used in thoughtful ways to create images that fill the small space with a sense of humour. The use of a blue towel draped over the head and shoulders to create a striking image of the Madonna and child was particularly funny yet poignant. Daniel Newell’s supporting role as a generic client probably named Chad was executed expertly.

Frankie van Kan has joined the ranks of strippers and sex workers stepping out of the clubs and into theatres to tell their stories in their own words. Frankie brings brings a fresh perspective and years of experience to this form of confessional theatre, pushing the boundaries of what should be talked about in polite company. 

Image Credit: Darren Gill


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