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Behind The Velvet Curtain: a peek into Jacqueline Haigh’s new comedy show

(Image by Joolz Barker, courtesy of Face In Hole)

Writer and performer Jacqueline Haigh reveals the inspiration for Goddess, appearing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, 2018.

Goddess is my new, comic storytelling show based on my true experiences working as a receptionist in a Tantric Massage parlour. Well, I say new. In fact, this project has been incubating for a while. 

A few years ago, I had just finished my Masters in Scriptwriting at Goldsmiths University. Sounds fancy but I was absolutely skint and needed a job fast. The film business wasn’t exactly flinging open its doors, so I ended up working in another industry…a far older one.

I heard about a job in a “clinic” in West London. But, when I arrived, it was a basement flat with a leopard skin couch and a painting of a topless Indian Goddess. Not very clinic-y. And what exactly was Tantric Massage anyway? I was about to find out…

The parlour immediately struck me as a great setting for a story – the stiletto shaped phone, the spiritual/sexual mash up and, of course, the elaborately costumed “Goddesses,” as the fabulous masseuses called themselves. 

As the receptionist, I got a glimpse behind the velvet curtain and saw who they were beyond the glamorous façade they presented to their clients. I soon became part PA, part agony aunt… “Would you like a cup of tea?” “Your next appointment’s at five” “That last guy did what??”

This inner sanctum was a uniquely female world, which I could not have entered were I a man. It was both funny and poignant and made me question what it really meant to be a Goddess, leading me to research the female deities, whom our ancestors worshipped worldwide.

But it also propelled me on my own journey of sexual discovery. Thus, I embarked on the quest for the elusive female G spot. Some say it is the key to rapturous pleasure and female ejaculation.  Some say it doesn’t exist and is a myth. It’s like the Nessie of the Vag!

So, I went to a male Tantric Masseur to find out for myself.  I don’t know if curiosity killed the cat, but it certainly roused the pussy…You’ll have to see the show to find out more!

I originally wrote Goddess as a short film. The screenplay was shortlisted by Film London for production funding but I had too much material to cram into ten minutes.

So I wrote the project as a feature film instead. Around the same time, I started doing stand-up comedy, studying with well-known teacher Logan Murray. I suddenly realised that if I told the story live then I wouldn’t need a camera or actors or funding… just me. Let’s put on the show right here!

I rewrote the film scenes into stories and performed them on the London comedy circuit, which seemed to work. Goddess playfully mixes techniques from stand-up, such as crowd work and talking directly to the audience, alongside dramatic structure and scenes, in which I play multiple characters and even do a bit of acting!

Then came the biggest blessing of the Goddess - enlisting Alan Short, an award-winning writer, director and animator who has just co-directed Watership Down for Netflix/BBC. Alan and I met a few years ago when I script edited Amazing Ray, the BFI development funded comedy feature screenplay he co-wrote. What joy to have Alan editing and directing my script. And I think the bar staff enjoyed our rehearsals in the Slug and Lettuce too!

So here I am now in Edinburgh, where I will be performing every day for three weeks. Strangely, Goddess is taking me on something of a personal pilgrimage as this is how I started my career. Whilst a student at Oxford University, I wrote and performed a one-woman show called Madwoman In The Attic, directed by Abigail Anderson. It was well received by critics and audiences alike and I went on to perform it across Europe and in New York.

That show was about a Victorian mistress trapped in her room, visited only by her “patron,” and a modern woman, struggling to break free of patriarchal limitations. Well, I was an angry young woman!

Goddess is a more upbeat tale, which, like the Goddesses themselves, guarantees a happy ending. But the questions of female identity and sexuality haunt me still. I was recently even hired to write a sex worker’s memoirs. Somehow the theme keeps choosing me. 

It’s my first time back to the Fringe for many years. I’m excited, I feel like a virgin again. I look forward to sharing with audiences where my curiosity led me and, who knows, maybe stimulate theirs a little too. The Goddess works in mysterious ways.

Goddess is playing daily from 4 - 25 August, 2.15pm at Tolbooth Market (room 6), Gladstone's Court, Edinburgh EH8 8BN (Venue 98) as part of the PBH Free Fringe. Free entry.

Book tickets for Goddess at https://tickets.edfringe.com

Website: https://www.jacquelinehaigh.com
Twitter: @JacHaigh
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jacqueline.genie.7