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Brett KahrThose witty theatre types have done it again, this time by writing a lovely little piece of musical theatre which valorises child rape, child prostitution and the punters “rights” to have sex. Oh yes, that sounds like a fun night out…

Rue Magique currently running at the Kings Head in Islington, was written by Brett Kahr and claims to be “It’s a daring musical that tackles prostitution, homelessness and addiction.” (Evening Standard). Brett Kahr is a white man (no surprise there then) and a family relations psychologist who has worked on Fame Academy and Operatunity amongst other shows.

The story it tells is of a 13 year old girl, Sugar, who’s mother, Desdemona, a brothel owner, forces her into prostitution and facilitates Sugar’s rape. Kahr describes this as a “family drama” and claims to have based the work on stories told to him by his patients. OK lets just pause there – the unethicalness of using patient stories, even as inspiration, presumable without their consent is horrific as is saying this is a “family drama” rather than, say, a portrayal of a serious crime. (The reviews vary between this being “inspired by stories” told to Kahr or based on a single case history – either way I’d bet money on the fact that this women/these women aren’t getting their share of the money Kahr is making. *And* Kahr locates the causes of child prostitution firmly as being the mother (who is definately culpable) rather than the demand from the “punters”. Kahr’s “expertise” as a marital relations psychologist in no way qualifies him to write about crimes against women and children and he also identifies as a “Freudian” psychotherapist – so no doubt he believes that “Sugar” wants to be raped to displace her mother in the affections of the “punters” (male/father) affections. But the he adds salt to the wounds by saying “the message of the musical is an uplifting one” (Islington Tribune). Yep of course child rape and prostitution always makes for an “uplifting” piece of theatre – especially I suppose if you’re the one financially benefitting from such exploitation. Plus the “happy ending” here is that Sugar, remember the 13 year old rape and abuse victim, runs away with her 17 year old, therefore adult, “boyfriend” to the glamour and lights of the West End. Yes the “happy ending” is that the “happy hooker” who is still only 13 and therefore three years under the age of consent, gets to run away with her “man”. Anyone else spitting feathers yet? But wait there is more….

I’m also really concerned by the racist nature of the casting in which Desdemona and Sugar as both black actresses, emphasising the age-old racist stereotype of the always available, sexually unethical black woman which bell hooks (amongst others) had written about before. Indeed one review highlights that the character of Desdemona is a “Creole brothel madam” – now I’m not sure what they mean by that but historically Creole refers to either mixed race peoples (particularly native and Euro heritage peoples such as Indonesian and Anglo or Spanish and Black African in Latin countries) or to white people born in the Carribean or Latin Americas (another review says she’s Guadalupean). My point? Race is being used to denote exoticism here, the same way Kahr does with the casting/naming of the three other “prostitutes” in the bothel which consist (as far as I can tell) of Rani (the hyper-sexual Asian or East Asian woman), Sonia the Latvian “frump, and Latrice (the black Carribean “hooker with attitude”/ghetto black woman). Given this show is running in comfortable white Islington, the setting of the play in South East London also reinforces the racial stereotypes – of course it’s only happening in those “poor”, “black” areas which are divorced from the everyday life of white affluence.

Kahr has claimed to be shining a light on abuse…

“Some of the most vicious forms of child abuse take place within the home, and are perpetrated often not by the father or the uncle, but by the mother,” he said. “It’s hard to believe that it happens in Great Britain but it does.”

Obviously it’s the mother here who is abusing Sugar, not the men, we’re back to the invisible rapist syndrome in which men are never made to take responsibility for their part in sexual violence. Yes Desdemona is culpable, but not she isn’t the one physically violating “Sugar”.

As the Times Reviewer quipped obviously:

“Nothing cheers up a down-in-the-mouth sex worker like a spot of song and dance – if this astonishingly tasteless new musical is to be believed.

From The Times

One of the core scenes is when Desdemona forces Sugar to take on “special interest” clients as she hit’s 13. As the Time’s review puts it

And as a 13th birthday present, Sugar must dress up in a child’s party dress and service a client’s paedophiliac kinks – an act she performs, in an extraordinarily grotesque scene, while singing about a fantasy celebration with happy families and chocolate cake.

Fortunately Fiona Mountford, in the Evening Standard, also has some doubts, like:

The Viper’s Tale, performed by three of the brothel’s clients, has all the makings of a cult hit, as the sad sacks sing jauntily of how It sucks when you have to pay/ When you’re fat, masochistic or gay. How we’d laugh, if only we hadn’t seen the terrified little girl they were lining up to screw.

And this:

There have, of course, been unlikely subjects for song and dance shows before but none could even begin to rival a narrative that centres around the rape of a child prostitute on her 13th birthday.

Evening Standard