A disturbing and stunning exploration of the Australian sex work industry, Daily Grind follows Roxy and Louise (played by Belinda McClory and Lynn McGranger), two St Kilda strippers, working at the Daily Grind Adult Cinema. Set in the clubs dressing room and centring around their everyday conversations, the piece has a palpable aura of honesty, largely attributed to the writer’s personal experience with working in the industry.
Originally written in 1982 the script was adapted for this season 10 years later to reflect how the industry had changed, in large part for the worse, after the introduction of harmful government regulations and reforms. Outside of large systemic change the individual working lives of Roxy and Louise have also been becoming more difficult. Roxy (McClory) finds herself facing mounting pressure to perform ‘hot’, meaning to perform live sex acts, and Louise (McGranger) strugles with the pressures bread from the pervasive cultural mindset that youth equals desirability and is ultimatly fired on account of her age.
The piece was created by Melbourne Workers Theatre, founded by Patricia Cornelius, Steve Payne and Michael White in 1987, a company endeavouring to make work that “…articulates flaws in the mainstream perception of Australian culture and identity, contesting how Australians think about themselves as a nation and as a people” (Melbourne Workers Theatre, Company History, 2002). With strong trade union roots and a heavy focus on creating work that was by the working class, for the working class, in the early years the company preferred to perform in community spaces and workplaces. Daily Grind was one of the first shows the MWT produced in a more conventional theatre space, and I would say that it was no coincidence they chose to make that move with Theatre Works. A place that not only shares their independent mindset, but is also placed at the heart of St Kilda surrounded by the people and places that tell this story.
Looking back at the reviews the show received plenty of praise. With Helen Thomson writing that it displayed “… a genuine dramatic complexity of issues and character, and serious food for thought”.
The show also received its fair share of criticism, a lot of which I can’t help but take with a grain of salt. Looking back, with 28 years of cultural hindsight, a few things stick out as potentially more a reflection of the time than of the piece itself.
Paul McGilick writes “The piece has predictable strengths and weaknesses given the didactic premise of the company and the fact that the author probably had a few things to get off her chest.”. Which in 2020, reads to me as ‘the loud angry woman tried to teach me something and I didn’t like it’. That kind of language minimises the importance that this show was written from the real life experience of an ex-sex worker, saying she ‘had a few things to get off her chest’, positions the work as an angry rant instead of an important piece of theatre about an industry and experience the writer knew of deeply.
This show pushed a lot of boundaries for its time and I can’t help but have a Carrie Bradshaw moment, looking out my window and wondering ‘If reviews have to clarify that ‘strippers are not prostitutes’ and praises a work about women for having ‘no overt, or strident feminism’ are they really equipped to supply accurate and astute critique of a show they have already proven they may not have fully understood?’.
Daily Grind was performed at Theatre Works from 6 – 30 May, 1992.
Daily Grind Cast & Crew
WRITTEN AND CREATED BY Vicki Reynolds
PRESENTED BY Melbourne Workers Theatre
DIRECTED BY Lisa Dombroski
DESIGNER Wiggy Brennan
PERFORMED BY Belinda McClory, Lynne McGranger
SOUND OPERATOR/ENGINEER Jo Irving-Spray
LIGHTING DESIGN Liz Pain
LIGHTING OPERATOR Jo Irving-Spray
CHOREOGRAPHER Sylvia Staehli
PRODUCTION MANAGER Linda Jenkin
FILMMAKER Ivan Johnsto