A naked pair of male buttocks tense under a spotlight as the play begins. They belong to Sailor, who asks if we want to watch. Sailor then proceeds to masturbate. The show follows in much the same way: at times a little wanky, very exposing, but ultimately fruitful. In this one-man show heavily inspired by Jean Genet’s life and works, Sailor is a rentboy from the nineteenth century. His relationships are based entirely upon sexual objectification and exploitation. He plays the victim with his clients before stealing from them.
This is an important discussion of the roles played by power, pain, and beauty in all sexual and platonic interactions.
When Sailor talks about using his good looks to exploit people, his audience sees where he is coming from. Aside from being a most competent actor, Matt Robertson is attractive, which helps when Sailor flaunts his well-styled blond hair, well-chiselled face, and impressive body, strutting, posing and teasing as he speaks.
Roberton’s cocky veneer disintegrates, however, as Sailor tells us how he has been brought to this callous hunt for power. The anecdotes are aggressively confrontational and leave little room for comedy. “Can you imagine what that was like for me?” Sailor asks, as he shares his early memories of his mother’s prostitution. “A stolen childhood,” he says, spelling it out for us. Also unnecessary was the recorded organ and drum music which kept chiming in at points to intensify the confessional feel.
However unsubtle it may be at points, the storytelling is still riveting and richly philosophical. Those knowing of Genet only through Kate Millett’s sexual polemics will not be disappointed. This is not only a gay play, but a sadomasochistic one. Its main theme is power relationships. Sometimes Sailor enjoys being dominant. “For me, power is an aphrodisiac. But then, it’s the same for everyone,” he explains, making a point of embracing the selfish, the carnal and the animal within him. Sailor also enjoys being submissive, finding beautiful depravity while in an all-male prison, where he self-harms and is raped repeatedly.
Liam Rudden’s script is not just an exploration of homosexuality or the seedy world of prostitution, although these topics are certainly present. This is an important discussion of the roles played by power, pain, and beauty in all sexual and platonic interactions. Forgiving its occasional departures from subtlety, Thief will arrest your attention and steal your heart away.