A controversial play which recently opened on London’s West End examines the issue of the sex tourism in Jamaica which attracts flocks of lonely women looking for flings with young black men. Are these sex holidays sleazy or merely harmless romantic vacations? London’s Royal Court Theatre – often a venue for controversy – is staging playwright Tanika Gupta’s Sugar Mummies, starring Lynda Bellingham as one of four middle-aged women who come to Jamaica to try out male prostitutes. And, there is oodles and oodles of sex in the play. Even before Sugar Mummies opened it ignited a hot debate about female sex tourism: is it merely harmless fun – a mutually-beneficial business transaction? Or, is it rank exploitation – and if so, of whom and by whom? Are the victims the women who believe declarations of true love; or are the victims the poor, unemployed young men who make them? Why should female sex tourism be viewed in a different light than male sex tourism, which is often characterized as being sleazy male chauvinist piggery? And does Sugar Mummies perpetuate a racist myth of hyper-sexual black men?
The play takes place against the backdrop of a Jamaica all inclusive resort at Negril Beach, where hero Leroy explains that for the gigolos, it’s an easy and fun way to make money; and for the women it’s some “real good lovin'”. The English ladies who come to Negril complain that the men back home are cold, selfish, uncomplimentary, and mechanical; the gigolos know how to make ladies feel good. Besides, everyone in Jamaica is poor, and the lonely English ladies seem like millionaires by comparison. The gigolos don’t charge a set price – they are not prostitutes, really. There is a tacitly agreed-upon, but mutual, deception which underlies a client-gigolo relationship. Payment is never mentioned since this would destroy the illusion that she is the most gorgeous woman he has ever met, and that he is madly in love with her. But after charming their woman and offering to be their guides, the gigolos set about extracting as much money as they can – sometimes in subtle ways.
Sugar Mummies opens on two 22-year old gigolos, Leroy and Sean, who spot two forty-something white women who have just arrived. Leroy warns them against Jamaican men, who will try to hassle them and rip them off. Apparently genuinely concerned for the women’s well-being, he and Sean offer to show them around and look after them. The women protest that they are so old, but Leroy replies “You ageless. In Jamaica real men like the cat – not the kitten. Mature, beautiful women like you.” The men are funny, and very complimentary; and the women figure “What the hell – you only live once.” Lynda Bellingham is excellent in the role of Maggie, a tragic, broken woman who is a habitual adult vacation sex tourist. Playwright Gupta explains that her purpose was to explore why these women feel so lost that they must pay for affirmation. The humor arises from the pathos of sad, middle-aged women believing that beautiful, twenty year old men have really fallen in love with them at first sight. Sugar Mummies is raunchy, steamy, and very funny.