Edinburgh Fringe 2023
Francesca shows us how the industry in which she has been working – stripping – has led her to opportunities, most of which she has to keep under wraps. And then one night there is an offer which is simply too good to refuse, and it has her moving form a fringe of sorts to the quirky alternative stream, well out of mainstream. Through a variety of monologues, songs and different guises, we are guided to that fateful night where a decision was made which may just have changed her life forever.
Francesca gazed out upon the auditorium and saw a mirror image of what I saw from, it – a solitary person. But fair play, she went on with the show. I enjoyed her performance poised as it was away from the sensationalist and into the psyche of someone who wanted to make a living using the abilities and attributes, she could exploit for herself. The narrative is good and there are sufficiently well developed plot points that keep your attention and from sleepy punters to those best avoided, pitfalls are exposed. Fake accents and pretending can often be quite cliché but here there is an ability to bring an authenticity to both.
If not beguiling, then certainly polished, the performance brings a freshness to the piece. There is a ore thana world weariness, there retains an element of naivete about what Francesca is likely to end up doing. We are well aware of the cliches of yore, despite the best efforts of therapists and sara Pascoe to turn our heads away from the sensationalism of sex work and the depths of depravity which are the lens through which people are viewing those who are sex workers, but here it needs to rise above Pretty Woman and be real. I felt that, despite the fact I was the only one, ironically, there was a real attempt to make that happen. The irony of being the solo audience for an act that is usually performed as a duo, made the relationship between me and Francesca onstage all that more, intimate. It struck me that this created a closer attachment to the performance due to that, and the subject matter.
Technically there were issues with her mic, but that was immaterial, given the circumstances. There are, however, a couple of other issues, in two distinctive areas. Firstly, reading from a script. It may be a prompt and a safety net but every time there is glance to the desk, character is disrupted, performance becomes less intense and there is a breakdown. This is a pity as the script sings when there is no need to look for an aide memoire.
Secondly in settling the direction in. This feels like it has as yet to find itself. Some of the moves needs to have some clear stripper structure – you need to develop that tough skin but also that inner confidence to take your clothes off – that needs to translate here. Performance is what we expect from a performer in the most exposed of professions so seeing some of that confidence strutting moves rather than hesitancy would help.
But the big plus comes from the stage presence of Francesca herself. She occupies the whole darn thing with a sultry passion that oozes at times. It makes the performance believable but what it needs now is to develop it into something which has confidence in itself to be that bit better – both performer and scrip deserve that. You can certainly see the shoots of that, and I believe that audiences would respond better if that was part of the obvious passion for the piece.