After premiering at the Royal Court last year, The Girlfriend Experience is having a run at the Young Vic. Writer Alecky Blythe recorded a year's worth of conversations in a small brothel and edited them down into a 90-minute play. I'm not sure how seriously to take Blythe's gimmick that the actors don't learn their lines - they all wear headphones on stage and hear the original speakers so they can imitate them down to the tiniest inflection. Ultimately it doesn't make much difference to the performance.
This is somewhere between the two common portrayals of prostitution: Neither a seedy story of girls forced into it nor a glamorous Secret Diary of a Call Girl fantasy. Instead the four prostitutes are all overweight, a couple of them to the point of obesity, and most of them are middle-aged. The real conversations have been edited well to make for a very funny play that shows them as people living normal, sometimes humdrum lives with the everyday highs and lows anyone else experiences. Debbie Chazen is Tessa, the madam who's trying to juggle running a brothel with actually moving herself and her teenage daughter in to live there so she doesn't have to pay for two houses - you don't see Billie Piper struggling to put together flatpack shelves. Esther Coles, Lu Corfield and Beatie Edney play her co-workers, while Alex Lowe has many a costume change as all the punters. The actresses are happy to throw their dignity to the wind for the sake of laughs as they squeeze into outfits they barely fit into, and Corfield is particularly memorable at the end as she drinks glass after glass of water then tries to hold it in until her first-ever watersports client arrives.
Overall it's very entertaining, and one of the few plays where I've looked at my watch to make sure it's still got a while to go yet and isn't nearly over. And I blame the smutty subject-matter for me texting a couple of rather Too Much Information tweets to my Twitter account. (Although if TMI is a problem my playwrighting career is going to be in trouble before it's started.)
The Girlfriend Experience by Alecky Blythe is booking until the 15th of August at the Young Vic.