Cambridge Arts Theatre, Cambridge – until 22 February 2020
Reviewed by Steph Lott
Most of my friends in the mid-90s watched Band of Gold. The TV series was a firm favourite at the time and Kay Mellor’s portrayal of sex workers in Bradford was respected not only as a drama but also because it depicted prostitutes with respect. Their lives, the reason they became sex workers, was central to the plot.
What I like about this play is that sex work is shown as just that – work. It’s not smutty, or glamorous – it’s what some women have to do to take care of their children, or as a means of earning a living when they don’t think they have any other way of making money.
This production for me was very mixed and a bit frustrating. We have here a fabulous cast but I think the play is too rushed for them to be able to do the characters justice, certainly in the second half of the play.
The first half works much better than the second. I found that Sacha Parkinson gave a very credible, touching performance as Gina. Her decision to become a prostitute is naïve and tragic, and ultimately believable. You feel her gradual despair as her choices diminish and as one by one all those around her either exploit her in some way or just don’t help her, lost in their own difficulties. I thought Olwen May’s performance as Gina’s mother, Joyce, captured so well the trap of women struggling to survive – work, men, children, the need to put food on the table. When Joyce suggests that perhaps going back to an abusive husband might be the best thing, it’s just awful but that’s the choice so many women face.
Kieron Richardson shone as Gina’s abusive husband Steve. His pathetic bitterness and drunken rage, his twisted reaction to Gina’s death, was a sterling performance. Joe Mallalieu as the sleazy loan shark Mr Moore provided the perfect explanation as to why Gina was faced with the choice that she made, and between the lack of support from her mother and the abusive men in her life, the decision to become a prostitute seemed inevitable