Friday 8th April 2022 at The King’s Head Theatre, London
Reviewer: Maygan Forbes
“What exactly does a normal relationship look like? And more to the point: who cares?”
Babydoll is a charming, heartfelt exploration into the narratives surrounding modern dating lives. Zeena (Demi Wilson-Smith) enters the scene with a naïve glint in her eyes, she like many graduates has hopes of dominating the world of business, one startup at a time. Her boss (played by Dylan Morris in a dual role) plays the Jordan Peterson-esque, self help book enthusiast.
Ironically, as the owner of a feminist startup company committed to placing women in higher job positions, he also has a problem with women asserting boundaries. Who’d have thought! During a chance encounter, Zeena meets with Billie (also played by Dylan Morris), an escort, and what spirals is a cute love story between the two. Morris plays the role of Billie incredibly well. Billie represents a hidden population for many students who use sex work as a means to pay for their education. She plays this without shame and with a level of detachment that is necessary for the job.
I thought it was interesting that the boss remains nameless, even in the program he isn’t named. Babydoll is based on the writer’s own experiences with sex work and the corporate world so perhaps this was a conscious decision from the writer Meg Wilson, to place the audience in the shoes of Billie throughout the play. By seeing things from Billie’s perspective, the Boss represents just another punter. He shouldn’t be the focus on the storyline because he is interchangeable and just another face for Billie’s clients.
The conversation around sex and intimacy is profound. Directors Kitty Fox Davis and Meg Wilson do a fantastic job showcasing the intimacy onstage between Billie and Zeena. The love is clear and it’s bold. It’s fun and fresh and the excitement that is felt during the honeymoon stages of a relationship radiates onstage. The discussion is had between the couple, as Zeena voices her concerns around Billie’s ability to differentiate her sexual experiences with clients versus her relationship.
The Archive’s YouTube channel has a really great video that dissects the discourse surrounding sex workers and their personal sex life. In the video, they invite sex workers to speak about how they create that divide. One person affirms the position that they are “going to work”, they’re doing their job and putting on a personality, which is not necessarily who they are in a romantic situation. This is a position Billie takes; when Zeena is questioning if commitment can exist with a partner who is a sex worker, Billie asserts that the intimacy traded with a partner is different to a role where you are in a position of service made to entertain and be an exhibitionist. These conversations were continued after the show, as I was leaving the theatre, I heard the buzz around me. Wilson’s script encourages discussions that support to comb out the layers attached to sex work.
Another great anecdote the play does is oppose the notion of boundaries in a work setting, regardless of the job role. Billie makes is clear that for her own safety, her boundaries are solid and the lines don’t blur between her clients. Zeena has an inappropriate relationship with her boss. She goes on double dates with him and his escorts, she lives with him and handles his dirty underwear. It’s a pretty bizarre set up and raises questions from Billie who wonders if Zeena’s boss has an ulterior, more sinister motive for employing her. When Zeena is forced to challenge her position on the opinions she holds regarding her Boss’ sex life, you wonder why Zeena feels as though she has equity in her Boss’ personal life and if there is a hidden subtext to their relationship that isn’t fully explored in the play.
Throughout the play, there is no question of the couples love for each other. There is definitely a more underlying nuanced subtext around a woman’s position in the corporate world (particularly after graduation), and navigating a somewhat unconventional relationship. The beauty of the play is the raw exploration of relationships on all levels. The relationships you have where your navigating personal and work relationships, and how you cope when your forced to confront your own values and morality.
Flawstate Theatre’s Babydoll has completed its run at the King’s Head Theatre, but you can find out more about it here.