Satisfaction: articles

alison whyte

Madeleine West in Satisfation.

Madeleine West plays a hooker in Satisfaction

THE US TV industry may be renowned for its relaxed attitude towards the portrayal of extreme violence, but can be remarkably coy when it comes to sex and nudity.

Australian TV has a relatively liberal attitude to both.

Local soap Number 96 featured topless shots of siren Abigail, but broke new ground in 1977 when actor Deborah Gray appeared full-frontal.

And who could forget the 1991 launch of Channel 9's Chances, which had been designed as a serious drama about a family trying to cope with winning the lottery.

When ratings fell, so did the trousers of its cast as scriptwriters tried to spice up the ailing series.

No Australian drama has been as daring in its portrayal of sex as Satisfaction, set in an upmarket brothel.

Satisfaction is about far more than nudity, its strength being in exploring the complex emotional lives of the men and women working in a potentially lucrative, but psychologically taxing business.

For Madeleine West, taking on the role of high-class hooker Mel took a lot of guts. As a former regular on Neighbours, West could easily have set out to forge a pop career, or taken on roles that allowed her to stay in her comfort zone.

But she has not only earned more acting stripes with her performance as Mel, the show has led to critically applauded roles in series such as Underbelly and City Homicide.

West is proud that Satisfaction makes for bold and confronting viewing by pushing deep into the territory of deceit, fetishes and ruthlessness in the sex industry.

"What intrigued me is the subject is quite taboo, and yet it's the world's oldest profession," West has said.

As with her co-stars, she researched her role by visiting brothels and meeting sex workers. She was surprised by the difference between what she found and the media's portrayal of prostitution.

"Predominantly, the media shows sex workers as 15 or 16-year-olds who have been sexually abused and have drug problems. People have this negative perception that's what all prostitutes are like. A lot have families. A large proportion came from the nursing profession, they'd been carers.

"We tried also to focus on fetishes, which on one hand can be quite amusing but can also be quite serious . . . if you are a stockbroker or a lawyer and are happily married with two kids, who's going to roll you up in a rug and step on you in high heels? Perhaps your wife doesn't want to do it.

"But when you read the scripts and see the complexity of the characters, the nudity and the sexuality just becomes part of the package - they're not defining the package."

West feels her campaign to establish herself as a character actor is paying off.

"It's been wonderful to have been given opportunities where I can be selective (about roles)," West says. "It's a leap of faith, but if the stars are aligned the roles will come to you.

"I only ever saw Neighbours as an amazing learning experience and took what I learnt there and applied it elsewhere.

"I give every atom of my being to it (acting). Sometimes it feels like a character inhabits you, once you have the make-up on."

As much as she's passionate about her work, West, who has two children, Phoenix and Hendrix with her husband, restaurateur Shannon Bennett, is adamant motherhood is her priority.

"I've turned down work because it doesn't fit in with the kids," West says. "I work pretty much exclusively in Melbourne unless the family can go with me because I'm just not prepared to be away from them."

By Darren Devlyn
December 02, 2009
Herald Sun