“This was not a choice, this was a tragic accident.”
This is a refreshingly raw play to grace the theatres of Oxford. Set in the intimate BT studio, everything from the set to the dynamic cast of Hustlers conveyed the chaotic, destructive lifestyle of its eponymous main characters.
The play, set in the US during the 80s drug and AIDS crisis, depicts the lives of three prostitutes and their pimp, viscerally portraying the internalized disgust of the lives of those involved at all stages of the sex industry who live in a continuous cycle of drugs and poverty. Harlow, played by writer and director Lou Lou Curry, and James, played by Megan Ruppel, live under the toxic control of their pimp Tony, nicknamed ‘Trouble’, played by the talented Nichita Matei. The exploitative relationship between the pimp and the two female prostitutes is brought to light through the introduction of a new prostitute to the streets: a woman aptly named ‘Clarity’.
The character of Clarity reveals the danger of streets without ‘protection’, a suitable double entendre for the AIDS crisis of the 80s, and hints at the simultaneously abusive and co-dependent relationships of pimps and prostitutes. In particular, the physical theatre employed in the opening scenes between the two main characters Harlow and James was especially compelling, capturing a frenetic cycle of prostitution and drug-taking.
A standout performance of the show was that of Megan Ruppel, who played the transgender prostitute James. She managed to convey the fragility of prostitution and drug addiction without falling into clichés; certainly no mean feat given the complexity of the subject matter. Her monologues provided her with material that she took and ran with, providing the audience with a truly immersive performance. Her character’s portrayal of the nuances of being a transgender prostitute, changing himself for the businessmen and the average guy on the street, provided a unique insight into the depersonalisation of prostitutes.
The set itself was cleverly designed; the floor scattered with condoms (that have definitely resulted in the loss of one JCR’s welfare supply), heroin needles and cigarettes, the audience was provided with an immersive experience which captured the poverty of the characters well. Despite a few cliché lines, such as that the only things that humans fear are “death and taxes”, and a feeling that the lighting could be improved upon in part, the first performance of this new original play was a breath of fresh air for the Oxford theatre scene.