he Grassmarket Project has never shied away from contentious issues. But in choosing Edinburgh’s Go-Go dancers as the subject of her directorial debut, Jean Findlay has more to contend with than usual. Of course, as producer of Glad, the play with and about the homeless, which established the reputation of the cOmpany, she faced popular ignorance and prejudice; but she didn’t receive irate letters from ‘right on’ feminist journals accusing her of collaborating in pornography and the exploitation of women.
It is no doubt a sign of my prejudice that I’m surprised by what I see when I open the door onto a Big Tease rehearsal. They are so striking, these six women strutting about the huge, bright, mirrored space of the Assembly Rooms dance studio to Mozart’s Voi Che Sapete. It is mesmerising to watch
' them thrash the pine ﬂoor with their whips
as they turn in formation on their high heels, then glare back disdainfully at their own reﬂections.
Suddenly the spell is broken as Roz, a stunning black woman in a turban and a strip of orange lycra, ﬂounces out of line with maximum theatricality. ‘Where’s the rhythm in this stuff?’ she shouts. ‘It’s got no beat— it’s bad enough you all makin’ me put this whip around my neck when I thought slavery was dead and gone!’ The other dancers burst into raucous laughter and start vying with each other for the privilege of burning the tape at the end of the show.
Maybe I was anticipating something sleazy, something subdued. What I see is tremendous vitality, and a group of professional dancers who are not used to being told what to do. Her insistence on Mozart is proving something of a sticking point, but it is obvious that Findlay’s cast is as enthusiastic and committed to the play as she is. They are aware that, like previous Grassmarket shows, The Big Tease is a medium for the actors who are its subjects, and they are determined to use it. As Jade, who has been doing strip shows and stag nights for twelve years, puts it, ‘this is the only chance I’m going to get to tell it like it is, to tell all those people who look down their noses at us not to judge what they don’t understand.’
Every day in Edinburgh’s West Port, men watch women remove their clothes over a pint. No one asks the dancers what they think about it. Now they’re putting on a show to tell us. Catherine Fellows goes Go-Go with the Grassmarket Project.
But judge they certainly do. The
closed-minded, negative reactions Findlay’s
work has provoked before it has even reached the stage could be dismissed as ridiculous, ifthe implications weren’t so serious. ‘People assume that I have to be either for or against,’ she says, ‘but the
whole purpose of this is to explore the issues
with the people involved.’ Having worked
with the homeless and young offenders, who
were mostly men, Findlay wanted to know
‘People think because we are strippers we
are the lowest of the low, how disgusting; but it’s just a job, an act. I know the difference between fantasy and reality.’
what happened to women in desperate circumstances. The answer, she discovered, was that many of them turn to the sex industry as a way out of poverty.
Her first visit to a 60-60 bar made a deep impression on her. ‘I walked into this bar full of men of all classes and types: lager-louts, people with Barbours and car phones, office workers,‘ she recalls. ‘I was the only woman watching, it was very frightening. But then I thought, I’m wrapped up in a great dufﬂe coat, and there she is, the dancer up there. practically naked. I was amazed by her courage, and I wondered what on earth was going on in her head. Then I saw that this TV screen was on showing the football as she was dancing, and I thought how shocking it would be to have instead a huge close-up of her face and a voice-over of her thoughts — to make the audience face her as a whole person, not just a body. That’s what I have done in the play, I’d just love to get the bar regulars in to see the show — I’m fascinated to know what they’d make ofit.’
Findlay got to know some of the dancers, and once they had been convinced of her integrity, six ofthem agreed to work on a show with her. The dancers’ individual performances, with the autobiographical monologues that have been pre-recorded, have been woven into a story line that Findlay has devised. John, a wholly fictitious character played by an actor, is a
self-righteous young buck intent on rescuing
one ofthe dancers from her ‘sordid’ existence. With a muddle-headed mixture of reasoned argument, pig-ignorant sexism and outright violence, he embodies much of the hostility the women are up against every day. At risk of stretching plausibility, Findlay has made her nutter religious and given to quoting from John Knox, because she is keen to expose the roots of a peculiarly Scottish prudery.
When I ask Jade what she thinks of this ‘John Knox’ character she gives it to me straight. ‘I’d just say look pal, dinna preach at me, get out of my way before I wrap your balls round your throat! I’m proud of what I do and I’ll stand up and argue to anybody. People think because we are strippers we are
18 The List l4—20August 1992