I’m sorry “Child Rape: the musical?” how is that even…..I’m speechless

// 4 November 2008

Brett KahrThose witty theatre types have done it again, this time by writing a lovely little piece of musical theatre which valorises child rape, child prostitution and the punters “rights” to have sex. Oh yes, that sounds like a fun night out…

Rue Magique currently running at the Kings Head in Islington, was written by Brett Kahr and claims to be “It’s a daring musical that tackles prostitution, homelessness and addiction.” (Evening Standard). Brett Kahr is a white man (no surprise there then) and a family relations psychologist who has worked on Fame Academy and Operatunity amongst other shows.

The story it tells is of a 13 year old girl, Sugar, who’s mother, Desdemona, a brothel owner, forces her into prostitution and facilitates Sugar’s rape. Kahr describes this as a “family drama” and claims to have based the work on stories told to him by his patients. OK lets just pause there – the unethicalness of using patient stories, even as inspiration, presumable without their consent is horrific as is saying this is a “family drama” rather than, say, a portrayal of a serious crime. (The reviews vary between this being “inspired by stories” told to Kahr or based on a single case history – either way I’d bet money on the fact that this women/these women aren’t getting their share of the money Kahr is making. *And* Kahr locates the causes of child prostitution firmly as being the mother (who is definately culpable) rather than the demand from the “punters”. Kahr’s “expertise” as a marital relations psychologist in no way qualifies him to write about crimes against women and children and he also identifies as a “Freudian” psychotherapist – so no doubt he believes that “Sugar” wants to be raped to displace her mother in the affections of the “punters” (male/father) affections. But the he adds salt to the wounds by saying “the message of the musical is an uplifting one” (Islington Tribune). Yep of course child rape and prostitution always makes for an “uplifting” piece of theatre – especially I suppose if you’re the one financially benefitting from such exploitation. Plus the “happy ending” here is that Sugar, remember the 13 year old rape and abuse victim, runs away with her 17 year old, therefore adult, “boyfriend” to the glamour and lights of the West End. Yes the “happy ending” is that the “happy hooker” who is still only 13 and therefore three years under the age of consent, gets to run away with her “man”. Anyone else spitting feathers yet? But wait there is more….

I’m also really concerned by the racist nature of the casting in which Desdemona and Sugar as both black actresses, emphasising the age-old racist stereotype of the always available, sexually unethical black woman which bell hooks (amongst others) had written about before. Indeed one review highlights that the character of Desdemona is a “Creole brothel madam” – now I’m not sure what they mean by that but historically Creole refers to either mixed race peoples (particularly native and Euro heritage peoples such as Indonesian and Anglo or Spanish and Black African in Latin countries) or to white people born in the Carribean or Latin Americas (another review says she’s Guadalupean). My point? Race is being used to denote exoticism here, the same way Kahr does with the casting/naming of the three other “prostitutes” in the bothel which consist (as far as I can tell) of Rani (the hyper-sexual Asian or East Asian woman), Sonia the Latvian “frump, and Latrice (the black Carribean “hooker with attitude”/ghetto black woman). Given this show is running in comfortable white Islington, the setting of the play in South East London also reinforces the racial stereotypes – of course it’s only happening in those “poor”, “black” areas which are divorced from the everyday life of white affluence.

Kahr has claimed to be shining a light on abuse…

“Some of the most vicious forms of child abuse take place within the home, and are perpetrated often not by the father or the uncle, but by the mother,” he said. “It’s hard to believe that it happens in Great Britain but it does.”

Obviously it’s the mother here who is abusing Sugar, not the men, we’re back to the invisible rapist syndrome in which men are never made to take responsibility for their part in sexual violence. Yes Desdemona is culpable, but not she isn’t the one physically violating “Sugar”.

As the Times Reviewer quipped obviously:

“Nothing cheers up a down-in-the-mouth sex worker like a spot of song and dance – if this astonishingly tasteless new musical is to be believed.

From The Times

One of the core scenes is when Desdemona forces Sugar to take on “special interest” clients as she hit’s 13. As the Time’s review puts it

And as a 13th birthday present, Sugar must dress up in a child’s party dress and service a client’s paedophiliac kinks – an act she performs, in an extraordinarily grotesque scene, while singing about a fantasy celebration with happy families and chocolate cake.

Fortunately Fiona Mountford, in the Evening Standard, also has some doubts, like:

The Viper’s Tale, performed by three of the brothel’s clients, has all the makings of a cult hit, as the sad sacks sing jauntily of how It sucks when you have to pay/ When you’re fat, masochistic or gay. How we’d laugh, if only we hadn’t seen the terrified little girl they were lining up to screw.

And this:

There have, of course, been unlikely subjects for song and dance shows before but none could even begin to rival a narrative that centres around the rape of a child prostitute on her 13th birthday.

Evening Standard

Comments From You

JENNIFER DREW // Posted 4 November 2008 at 12:30 pm

Louise has written very succinctly about how child sexual exploitation and abuse is women’s fault (yet again) and also how male-dominant society (yet again) transforms non-white women and girls into white men’s sexualised commodities.

Add on the fact this white male writer has clearly abused his position of power and influence by ‘using’ female patients’ stories for his own profit. Oh yes and the white, male-dominated media are falling over themselves acclaiming this ‘piece of women-hating, women-blaming, racist and misogynstic piece. All the male justifications and male excuses are there, together with the deliberate misogynistic dehumanisation of all women and girls. Since this male writer publicly believes women and girls of whatever colour, race or ethnicity are men’s masturbatory objects. And whose fault is that – why it is mother again. No wonder writer is a Freudian psychotherapist. Freud, is not alone in having held misogynistic contempt for women but his views still hold immense influence, as evidenced by this psychotherapist.

But of course, this writer is simply portraying the ‘truth’ because all women are ‘whores’ and all women and girls just want to be men’s sexual slaves.

Leigh // Posted 4 November 2008 at 1:10 pm

From the reviews this does seem to be awfully written and tragically misguided. While abuse perpetrated by female carers is a topic that requires exposure and discussion, this musical seems a poor execution of that aim. That said, I find it hard to concur from the references given that it valorises Child Rape, and accusing Kahr of being a misogynist and speculating as to his belief as to the Child’s desire to have sex without direct reference to his psychological work or personal statements on the matter seems unjustified and ad hominem.

Louise Livesey // Posted 4 November 2008 at 1:55 pm

Lets start with the white male appropriation of women’s/black women’s stories (depending on which article is correct). Then add to it his use of this as a vehicle to make money (exploitation) and his justification of it as “entertainment” and unproblematic. And that’s just for a start!

Freudian theory on reports of child rape are pretty clear – see Freudian writers from Freud to the modern day for examples.

Soirore // Posted 4 November 2008 at 2:57 pm

You don’t raise awareness of serious issues with musical theatre. If it had been a serious play I may (with some serious stretching of credulity still) have given Kahr the benefit of the doubt. I was going to write more but the horror of this production is so obvious I don’t really need to.

Misogynist, racist crap; when will it stop being offered as entertainment?

Anne Onne // Posted 4 November 2008 at 6:33 pm

Nothing gives the justification of trying to paint the punters in a sympathetic light, and absolving them of rape whilst trying to pin it on everyone else.

Maybe it was just too complicated a subject for a white man to tackle, being alien from his personal experience. He may have patients, but it doesn’t make it his experience, since he’s never had to deal with racism, misogyny or prostitution in his own life.

Besides, a Musical? Talk about bad taste. I wouldn’t say it’s impossible to address this subject in theatre, but the authorial voice, how something is framed, is vital. And unless you’ve got a good grounding in the subject and the theory, (not just vague privileged experience from a distance) and can write in a way that does not dehumanise the people at the centre of it, don’t do it. It’s that simple. Nobody forced him to write a controversial play, and whilst I don’t believe in censorship, it doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be criticised for all the privilege seeping through the cracks.

Oh, God, I thought Freud was discredited LONG ago, are we still in the Dark age? Seriously, how is it that plenty of academics where it counts recognise that Freud was a fraud with serious issues, but a lot of the Mainstream see him as the One True Genius of Psychology.

Rhona // Posted 5 November 2008 at 11:44 am

This HAS to be some kind of a joke, right?

After reading this article, I actually had to go and Google this sickening crap in order to be convinced that it actually existed and wasn’t just dreamt up by some lunatic misogynist intent on securing a few ‘shock horror’ columns in the Daily Hate Mail.

Good grief. I’m sorry, I may be able to post a more coherent and sensible reply when my eyebrows have descended from my hairline and my mouth closes.

sianmarie // Posted 6 November 2008 at 12:43 pm

this is so bizarre. do you remember brass eye? they had a satire called sutcliffe the musical – it seems like all the satire is coming true and i don’t like it.

Carrie // Posted 6 November 2008 at 2:27 pm

I do some writing on musical theatre for the Guardian and I saw this terrible show on Sunday. I write about it briefly here –

http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/series/west-end-girl

But I couldn’t go into any detail about it. The “happy ending” – where Sugar’s given a day off to celebrate her birthday, but has to be back at work tomorrow – was gobsmacking.

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