In Traumboy, his one-man show about his experiences as a gay male prostitute, Daniel Hellmann emerges as a performer that is as eloquent with his voice as he is with his body. The show’s engrossing, effortless oscillation between cheeky comedy, unrelenting honesty and cathartic sexuality sets the stage for the audience to look at themselves and their prejudices with as much introspection as Hellmann himself seems to be capable of.
A therapeutic, cathartic, sex-positive piece of theatre.
Hellmann’s versatile performance is hypnotising, his confessions poignant, and his candour refreshing. The show is a smorgasbord of pertinent dialogue, camp song and dance, and intense conversation that leaves the audience feeling like they’ve attended a group therapy session – in a good way. Most importantly, this is a performer that is not just passively comfortable with his sexuality, but who knows how to actively use it to get what he wants and say what he needs. It’s a joy to witness.
Traumboy is a politically relevant call to look past prejudice. The aim of Hellmann’s game is to show that there is happiness and fulfilment to be found in sex work. He invites us to live vicariously through him, to the point where we end up charmed by the complex character before us and – by extension – his work. He presents himself as vulnerable and naked, both figuratively and literally, in a piece of theatre that is as important as it is entertaining, if only to illuminate the lives of people we rarely hear about. And yet, despite his musings about race and privilege at the start of the show, Hellmann’s rose-tinted experiences with prostitution in Zurich and Berlin can’t be as universal as he presents them to be; I cannot help but contrast his debaucherous adventures with the Paris-Is-Burning-esque experiences of black and trans sex workers. Nonetheless, claims of promiscuity have always been used to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people, and Hellmann finds power in embracing and nuancing, rather than rejecting, this stereotype.
Hellmann’s taboo-free rapport with his audience is delightful. He displays his phone number on stage, and implores us to text him any questions we may have throughout the show. These anonymous interactions give rise to the piece’s funniest and frankest moments. This comfortable relationship grows to lull people into reflecting out loud on their sexual desires and fantasies and answering difficult questions with inward-looking honesty – the mood du jour. The audience being made to read Hellmann’s outrageous client reviews aloud was particularly excellent.
That said, there remains an addictive tension to the performer’s relationship with his audience. The show opens with Hellmann detailing his traumatic first encounter with sex work, and then poking fun at us for believing him. As this Jewish man discusses the various identities that he has constructed for himself – the mysterious Italian, the ‘exotic’ Algerian - we cannot help but wonder if we are being told the truth, or if this is just a seductive character. Don’t be fooled, though – despite it feeling like more of a conversation than a performance at times, this is very much Hellmann’s show, and we have very much paid for it, which makes us equivalent to his voyeuristic clients – a point which he drives home with a ‘gift’ to finish off his performance. We feel like we know him intimately, yet have a nudging feeling that we know nothing at all. I challenge you to figure him out.
At times, it feels like Hellmann is preaching to the choir. His political statements aren’t always clear, and the expected indignant responses to his stories never materialise – this is the Fringe after all, and the audience gobbles up every scandalous tale and dance number with fervour. “Let us be whores” he demands, though by this point, nobody in the Summerhall theatre is trying to stop him.
Daniel Hellmann’s Traumboy is a therapeutic, cathartic, sex-positive piece of theatre. To quote one of Hellmannn’s client reviews, “you just can’t get him out of your head”.