Theatre review: A Body at Work, La Mama

A dynamite debut solo from Frankie van Kan that delves into the world of strip clubs and sex work.
‘A Body at Work’. Photo: Darren Gill. Two naked bodies lie on top of each other on a simple massage bed with their heads facing the viewer. A red light is illuminating their bodies.

A Body at Work is a performance that offers the type of social commentary that Australian theatre so often avoids. In the capable hands of performer and writer, Frankie van Kan (aka Frankie Valentine), the sometimes shadowy world of strip clubs and sex work is exposed with such a deft touch, it’s impossible to walk away from this performance without a rueful grin plastered across your face. 

There’s a playful, sexual energy to this work, with van Kan accompanied on stage by Daniel Newell, who plays a silent second character, “The Body”. The fact that this role is non-verbal is an excellent trope, used to its full advantage and seemingly speaking to the concept of the “male gaze”.

A Body At Work is also successful in deconstructing any predispositions that one may have towards sex work – at the end of the day, sex work is work. This is a message that van Kan serves to the audience, with no other option otherwise.

With director and luminary Maude Davey on the team and at the helm, the quality of this work is hardly a surprise. The result is nonetheless riveting.

The show’s ability to educate audiences on the downfalls of sex work regulation prior to Victoria’s decriminalisation in 2023 – where workers were required to be registered on a permanent record – should also be commended. This detail formed an important part of the show’s narrative arch and is another mark of its accomplishment. It succeeds in shining a light on the little known “ins and outs” of the industry. 

Throughout A Body at Work, van Kan’s striking physicality never wavers and the use of water mid-show heightens the experience.

The performance’s only weakness is that, occasionally, the dialogue can be lost under the thumping soundtrack (created by Christian Biko). However, other technical elements are impeccable, including the soundtrack itself, which blends and borrows from popular culture, such as ‘6 Inch’ by Beyoncé. As is the lighting design by Shane Grant, where contrasting washes of pink evoke the atmosphere of the strip clubs in which van Kan performs.

A Body at Work ends, not with a full resolution, but with a pause, indicating that van Kan’s story is still in a state of flux. It holds space for the stories of a group that continues to face marginalisation, even within the queer and broader LGBTQIA+ spaces.

Read: Theatre review: Slippery, The Butterfly Club, Midsumma Festival

It is hard to believe that this is a debut solo work. Make no mistake, A Body at Work is a dynamite piece of theatre. It has sold out the rest of its Midsumma season, and with good reason – the Australian theatre scene can only hope that A Body at Work returns for a second run. 

A Body at Work
Written and performed by Frankie van Kan
Director: Maude Davey 
The Body: Daniel Newell
Composer: Christian Biko 
Lighting design: Shane Grant
Technician: Ellen Perriment

A Body at Work is performing from 27 January to February 4  at La Mama as part of Midsumma Festival 2024.

This review is published under the Amplify Collective, an initiative supported by The Walkley Foundation and made possible through funding from the Meta Australian News Fund.

Jessi Ryan (they/them) has been creating performance and exhibitions for the past 20 years, both locally, nationally and abroad- in this time collaborating with a huge number of artists from a broad cross section of cultural backgrounds. As a journalist they have written for and been published by some of Australia’s leading arts and news editorial across the last 10 years-and was recognised as a finalist for Globe Community Media Award in 2021. Ryan has also taken photos for a number of print and online publications.