Theatre review: Hula House at Camden People’s Theatre

This bid to give voice to the hidden world of prostitutes is sordid, bizarre and manipulative, says Anna Behrmann.

The idea behind Hula House is compelling; it invites the audience to step inside a “brothel” and demystifies the women behind the curtains.

Created with the English Collective of Prostitutes, the play promises to be an immersive, dark comedy - but for the most part it is painfully awkward and even manipulative.

There is very little immersion and the stage is bare. There is one arresting image to open the play; a woman lying upon a table with party rings over her nipples, sausage rolls on her stomach and an orange stuffed in her mouth.

Trying to summon up a party spirit, a scantily-clad prostitute, played by Jenny Kondol, offers the audience food from her friend’s body.

Many cheerless party games follow, where the audience are encouraged to dance on stage and play with dildos. In between, Kondol and Xanthe gyrate titillatingly and shout out facts about why we should decriminalise prostitution. They remind us that while prostitution is legal, soliciting in a public place is illegal.

As an audience, we’re encouraged to be candid. Have we ever visited a brothel? (A few hands up.) It feels bizarre, then, when one audience member who arrives late, is unmasked as an actor. Invited on stage to whip one of the prostitutes, he starts taking it too far. Disturbing, and as it turned out, a cheap trick to make a point.

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A saving grace of the play is the way it gives a voice to hidden experience. The actresses tell stories from interviews with prostitutes. Xanthe vividly describes how she was “courted” by one of her clients, who buys her gifts, until one day he attacks her. More stories are played out as a grim backing track to the party.

Hearing more about these experiences would have been better. For the most part the play felt like a sordid after-party; one you’d quite like to leave.