Fandango Productions excel with a thoughtful comedy about stripping
Darren (Joe Layton) is young, dumb, and full of … chutzpah, a Magic Mike wannabe from Bolton with his pitiful posing pouch and bravado. When he accidentally encounters hard-bitten professional American stripper Nina (Kate Franz) in a pub dressing room, where a hen party and stag night have both booked to see them, his attitude towards women and the industry he wants to be part of are tested. Emily Layton's writing is both harsh and hilarious and the script neatly exposes the double standards around public nudity for men and women: while the men are muscular stereotypes and their sexuality is presented as playful, women are identified by less ironic signifiers of desire and availability.
By contrasting two genders, Layton can be more even-handed. There is plenty of hypocrisy on both sides. Nina is supposed to be fearless, yet cannot pluck up the courage to tell her mother how she is funding her way through university; Darren is both aroused and repulsed by Nina's sexual confidence. In less confident hands, the contrasts could be simply crass, but Partial Nudity deepens the ironies and paints a complex picture.
Even the complexities of sex industry nomenclature are handled in grand style. Darren speaks disparagingly of the women who his male stripper friends have had in toilets. Nina's speech about how she isn't a sex worker purely because she takes off her clothes for 'men twice my size, who could crush me' is chilling; yet she is acutely aware of how she facilitates and manufactures lust in these men with her act.
While the themes of sex and money make stripping an inevitable topic for theatre, Partial Nudity avoids rehashing the predictable stories for something more personal and idiosyncratic. With the recent controversy about strip club licences in Edinburgh and London, this play is timely, tense and poignant, with two excellent performances which are both soulful and smart – unexpectedly lovely.
ZOO, until 27 Aug, 7.55pm, £9 (£7).