As the director Ross Slater explained vaguely in his introduction at the beginning of Gob Shop, ‘this isn’t really theatre, not like Shakespeare, or that sort of thing’. You can say that again. Gob Shop, which takes place in an functioning strip club, the Sapphire Rooms, consists of an intriguing compilation of realist, dramatic and abstract segments. It includes talks by an actual employee of the club and what made her choose this profession, some sketches depicting imagined stereotypes of strippers at work, and some more ambitiously artistic elements; a highly symbolist dance sequence, for instance.
Yet for all of the playful and inventive mix of styles, the performance ultimately fails to do the one thing the director assured us it would – to offer new and fresh insights into the world of strip clubs, strippers and their clients.
Instead the insights were tired and predictable. The production claimed to ‘address preconceptions’ but I suspect most people left with whatever opinion they held about strip clubs to begin with, even if that wasn’t much of an opinion at all. The barman, played by Andrew Simpson in a rather lengthy and awkward opening sketch, began a slightly incoherent rant, in which the words ‘place of sin’ and ‘moral debasement’ could occasionally be caught. There then followed a corroborating scene of Moulin Rouge-like grotesquery, in which a scantily clad young women gave a highly repulsive, highly caricatured old man a lap dance (in which the audience got to see rather more than some of us wanted).
This was then juxtaposed with the show’s more realist elements; a talk delivered by the Sapphire Rooms employee, Liina, who explains that she chose this job in the absence of any other whilst a student at Edinburgh, and you know, it’s not as bad as all that really. And her clientele were not simply disgusting old men, but could be quite a varied range of characters. But I don’t think any member of the audience had ever imagined otherwise. In so doing, the show essentially created its own stereotype and then dismantled it, but a stereotype that had little grounding in 21st century reality. They effectively presumed the audience to have presuppositions that most of them simply did not. Did they really think us a group of Victorian prudes, sitting high on our seats of moralistic judgement, incapable of more complex thought? Apparently so.
Liina’s argument to the accusation that she was merely a sex object was to assert that all women in this society are sex objects. ‘I simply use my sex object status as a weapon’ she explains. It is the sort of argument that might grate to a few, to put it lightly.
Moreover, whilst the stylistic diversity could be described as original and creative, it could equally be described as slapdash, and a show which does not really know what it is. The show lacked pace and organisation, and there were several moments where nobody seemed to know what the hell came next.
In the end, whether it is the imagined world of exotic costumes and seedy old men, or the reality of students gyrating to R&B music for a drunken stag party crew, both worlds of strip clubs are equally grim, and of little interest to those outside of them. I certainly do not appreciate being lectured on stereotypes I never even held.