Daniel is a sex worker. Or so he tells us. But then Daniel has also been Leo and Antonio and is now known as Phil, at least to his clients. That’s if you believe any of what is presented as fact on stage in this one-man, one hour walk through the autobiography of a sex worker who floats between Zurich and Berlin. It could all be true. It could all be a lie. It’s probably somewhere in between.
Daniel starts his show in the auditorium, starkly uplit by handheld light. His face is blanched out and his shadow is skeletal as he tells us the story of the young father he blew whilst the guy’s baby son was in his stroller in the next room. He tells us how traumatic and disgusting it was the first time he sold himself. And then tells us this is a lie that feeds into the dominant stereotypes about sex-working. He can’t quite remember who his first client was. It was a few years ago now. He’s 31, though claims to be perpetually 27. Daniel has become an unreliable narrator, who both lies to us and to his clientele. That’s a potentially interesting device, especially for a one man show, but disappointingly it is then just dropped. Like several other aspects of the show it is under-developed.
Daniel tells us about how he times one appointment to be exactly 60 minutes long, breaking down each element of his activity into specific time slots. Yet, the connection between this and the 60 minutes of his time that we have collectively paid for is never quite made. The show somewhat sententiously claims to ‘question the double standards of our capitalistic and hypersexualised society’ but no insights of any substance are offered, beyond a fairly lame comparison with going to the hairdresser.
If Hellman expected judgement or condemnation from an audience in Manchester for being a sex worker, he was always going to be disappointed. One audience interaction section is painful, with him asking loaded questions only to have the show stolen by hilarious, deadpan responses several leaps ahead of him. The section of sex worker review karaoke is more successful. The audience pass the mic to each other and read out graphic sex ratings as they are projected on to the set. It does perhaps go on a little too long, but it is brilliant none the less.
The stories of sex work are interesting. And there are some real insights into the mechanics and emotions of working as a male prostitute. Daniel re-enacts a photoshoot and mimes out sex in different positions. It’s a bit obvious, trite even, but it conveys the banalities of the job. His final entrance is superb, a sort of fallen angel, gas mask, sex toy combo with a dash of backlit dry ice. His singing is a bit cringe, but there may be some levels of Teutonic irony here that are lost. This is Daniel’s first show in English after all.
If Traumboy is not some elaborate meta-textual prank, then it is a brave show. It is a bit under-cooked and it misjudges its audience, but Daniel is a strong and vulnerable stage presence, offering candour and clarity about himself and his role. His story, whether true or not, is fascinating.
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Words by Stephen M Hornby