Nicôle Lecky’s wickedly clever debut play Superhoe, about the mercenary world of sex work, delivers a searing lesson in empathy. Annabel Mellor reviews:

24-year-old East Londoner Sasha (Nicôle Lecky) is definitely not authentic – she isn’t honest with anyone in her life. Not her (ex?) boyfriend Anton, not her family and definitely not her Instagram followers.

No one, that is, except her audience.

Here she adopts a conspiratorial tone. Fully confiding within the first minute of Superhoe, she shares her darkest secrets.

Nicôle Lecky (image courtesy of Helen Murray)

Sasha is a singer-slash-rapper, writing an EP and living on money left to her by her grandmother. But her mum’s new boyfriend Kevin wants her out of the family home. What follows is Superhoe, Sasha’s coming-of-age story as she is shoved over the threshold into adulthood, meets glamorous insta-celebrity Carly and soon starts stripping on webcam.

With her debut solo show, writer and performer Lecky has created a young woman containing multitudes. Sasha is juvenile but worldly, naive but defiant. She externally projects a solid sense of self, even as her safety nets break one by one. Staring insolently into the middle distance, hand on hip, Lecky sprinkles her stream of consciousness with a generous handful of references to an urban 90s childhood.

The drama is interspersed by renditions of the songs from her coming-soon EP. Aided by Prema Mehta’s stunningly effective lighting design, Sasha takes up the mic and the rest of the world disappears. When she sings, she is transformed. Under the spotlight she is taller, bolder, older. A gorgeous performance.

Superhoe Royal Court

Nicôle Lecky (image courtesy of Helen Murray)

After leaving home, Sasha is adrift in a ruthless, mercenary world where sex is transactional and value is measured in cold, hard numbers. Money. Instagram followers. She’s a paid-up member of the lifestyle, she’s drunk the Kool-Aid,

“I don’t need a nine-to-five, I just need a [web]cam

“I’m not lonely, I have 2,800 followers”.

The ATM in the corner externalises her conscience: “Are you sure?”

Jade Lewis’ tight direction builds an atmosphere of growing threat as our heroine finds herself in a series of increasingly dangerous situations that escalate far out of her control. Kiera Liberati’s costume provides a visual metaphor for Sasha’s vulnerability. She peels off her layers until she’s wearing a tiny dress, before shrugging them back on again.

Nicôle Lecky (image courtesy of Helen Murray)

Lecky’s writing is bold and opinionated, a non-judgemental look at the realities of sex work. Sasha accepts £5,000 in cash to have sex with a group of men without using condoms, explaining defensively that money makes her happy. In a direct hit to the typical Royal Court audience, she lashes out,

“You wouldn’t understand if you’ve never been poor”.

Lecky’s rhythmical script is at its very best when delivering these tightly formed jabs of truth to power.

The widening gap between Instagram and real life is ever-present,

“I look at my page and think ‘f*ck me do I want her life!’”

Nicôle Lecky (image courtesy of Helen Murray)

There are racial tensions too. Sasha is the only person of colour in her family now her dad’s gone, and with a baby on the way she’ll be even more outnumbered. Gender politics feature, stealing a sideways glance at the women who take advantage of the girls they pretend to befriend. When first her mother, and then Carly, let Sasha down, the betrayal stings more than any time she’s failed by men. Lecky explores the women’s sexual power with a critique of ‘choice’ feminism, asking if (when everyone is exploiting everyone else) sex work is even a gendered issue at all.

The girl at the start of Superhoe makes it hard to muster sympathy. But after 85 minutes in her company, the audience can see Sasha more clearly than she sees herself. Her life is a patchwork of the fabrications and fairytales she tells her followers, clients and family. But not to her audience. Here she has support, the will to succeed.

Superhoe’s final gut-wrenching moments see Sasha alone in the world, all lifelines cut, in need of a saviour. She doesn’t believe that she deserves a second chance. Her audience disagrees.

★★★★☆

Superhoe plays at the Royal Court until 16 February 2019. For more information or to book tickets, please visit the venue website.