Daniel Hellmann is Traumboy and Anne Welenc is Traumgirl. Each give a male and female perspective into the lives of sex workers. Daniel Perks reviews both shows, playing alternate dates at Summerhall:

Anne Welenc starts off Traumgirl naked, her body projected onto a full-length screen with bubbles blowing out from between her thighs.

At the opening to Traumboy, Daniel Hellmann is in sweats and a jumper, sat in the audience under a single spotlight.

Which is the more impactful? And which signposts all the theatrical fluff to come?

Traumgirl Summerhall
Anne Welenc

In Traumboy, Hellmann plays himself – a sex worker and theatremaker – whereas performance artist Welenc becomes sex worker Kim in Traumgirl.

Hellmann is happy to refer to himself as a prostitute, whereas one of Welenc’s rules for the show is that the word is completely forbidden.

And so Traumboy and Traumgirl each proceed, two separate shows intrinsically linked by providing male and female perspectives on sex work. Both are informative, told with an endearingly honest energy. Both also feel too much like a lecture, except when they feel like a performance piece. Never do the two styles meet.

Traumboy Summerhall
Daniel Hellmann

Neither performance feels dramatically intact. Stories around sex work – whether it be tales of clients’ sexual needs or autobiographical information – jaggedly transition to performative dance pieces in front of a white screen. Hellmann plays the sexy American footballer, Welenc a latex punk fetishist. Both Traumboy and Traumgirl lack a clear theatrical vision, or a grounded, tangible point.

What insights do the audience get from these segues?

Why even have them at all?

The answers are as clear as the heavy smoke and pulsating lights that transform each set from a video diary and Q&A setting into an underground nightclub. Maybe it is that both Traumboy and Traumgirl play fantasies, and so the shows mirror that same level of escapism intrinsic to the work in which both Hellmann and Kim partake. But this is just an assumption, one that remains unexplained and unsatisfyingly unresolved.

Traumboy Summerhall
Daniel Hellmann (image courtesy of Till Böcker)

The main intrigue with Traumboy lies in the layers and layers of dichotomy. It’s an intellectual meta-exercise – Hellmann becomes Phil in his profession (after trying Leo and Antonio on for size) but reveals more of his true self than his character in the show. Traumboy is fundamentally about his sex work, so the performance then becomes Hellmann playing Phil who is really Hellmann. And that quandary – where one persona stops, where a new one begins and who the real person within all of this is – that’s the nugget that keeps the audience engaged.

The other connection Hellmann can make with his audience is that he doesn’t have to imitate these emotions because he has lived them. The slideshow of his true past has vulnerability and resonance, all conveyed with an unabashed, unashamed expression. Hellmann is most naked when fully clothed and telling of his past, rather than when he strips off to sell himself as a product or service.

Being nude is a job, being personally open is the true risk here.

Traumgirl Summerhall
Anne Welenc (image courtesy of Patrick Mattraux)

Traumgirl does not have any of this, because Welenc is very clearly a performance artist playing a character. Yes, that character is meticulously researched and yes, there is an artistic quality underpinning the performative nature of the piece. But there’s nothing to unpack in Traumgirl. It lays itself as bare as Welenc at the start of the show and develops no further from there.

Kim is the sex worker the audience thinks they are dreaming of. But she never stops pretending to be someone’s desire, and as such fails to embrace her own reality.

Traumgirl Summerhall
Anne Welenc

There are some socio-political points subtly interwoven into both productions. Traumgirl focusses on how new laws have transformed the sex work industry from something that validly contributes to the Swiss economy – a taxable profession – into a perversion that is ruining the Swiss cultural and moral landscape. Traumboy hints at the dangers of sex work becoming entirely illegal, which will resort to these activities being forced underground and inviting abusers into an already precarious power structure.

Because a prostitute cannot be morally superior to a client. That would imply they operate on an equal footing, rather than being lesser in some fundamental way.

Traumboy Summerhall
Daniel Hellmann

Traum is the German for dream. But neither Traumboy nor Traumgirl leave the viewer feeling uplifted or happy from a good night’s sleep. Moreso nonplussed and uncertain, fading quickly away in the harsh morning light.

Traumboy: ★★★☆☆

Traumgirl: ★★☆☆☆

Traumboy and Traumgirl are now playing on alternating dates at Summerhall until 25 August 2019. For more information or to buy tickets, please visit the festival website.