I saw it on the coffee table in my gyno’s waiting room.
It was half-covered, almost buried by other magazines, but the stern-looking lady on the cover caught my eye. She stared out authoritatively, dressed in a black school-gown and mortarboard. And in her hands, she was flexing a cane.

A copy of Cosmo, with a headmistress holding a cane on the cover.
I felt myself needing to know. I didn’t recognise her, perhaps there was some celebrity on the hidden side of the cover. Perhaps the cover story featured the celebrity talking about their schooldays, paying tribute to some strict school-teacher whose discipline helped steer a wayward child towards hard work, fame and fortune.

Except… the lady with the cane didn’t look like a singing or acting coach. In fact, she looked decidedly kinky. And dominant. Erotic even. She gave the camera an underlook that seemed to say: I’ve had quite enough of your misbehaviour, young lady, now bend over.
My imagination began to buzz with possibilities.

I looked around the room as casually as I could manage. Three other ladies shared the room, each a polite distance apart. I wondered if they’d seen what I’d seen. One was engrossed in her own glossy magazine. The other two were gazing aimlessly around the room, as if telepathically playing a game of Eye Spy. If I reached for the magazine, would they notice? Would I reveal my darkest secret? Would they exchange knowing glances? Look at her, the one with Cosmo, she gets turned on by bottoms being smacked.

I had to know. Perhaps the cover was entirely innocent. Your Top Fifty Fancy Dress Outfits! Or something equally lame. I chided myself for being so silly. I got up, reached over, and extricated  the magazine from the pile – and revealed the full front cover for the first time.

read the headline
and underneath, in smaller type

Now I could see the cane-wielding school-mistress was beside two petite young women, both with the flawless, almost artificial, good looks of magazine cover models. They were dressed as schoolgirls, with ties and long skirts – nothing slutty – in what looked like an archaic schoolroom of high bookshelves and chunky wooden desks. One was frozen in a childish pose, head bowed, with fingers in her mouth, as if she’d just been reprimanded. The other had her hands behind her, as if instinctively covering her bottom. The scene needed little interpretation; rules had been broken, bottoms were going to be sore.

I gawped dumbly, my mouth dry.
I daren’t look up, the others in the room would no doubt be staring at me. I opened the magazine as casually as I could manage, laying it over my lap to hide the front cover, I quickly located the recipe section. I hoped they all could see me now, looking at a recipe for quinoa salad. Completely innocent. Nothing to see here at all. I’ll give it a few minutes, I thought, and they’d lose interest in me. I started reading about Moroccan mint-roasted vegetables, nodding occasionally.

My eyes reached the end of the page, I’d finished reading about tagine cookery, now I longed to find the cover story. I was convinced everyone would still be looking at me, but when I chanced a glance around the room, their eyes were elsewhere. Emboldened, I slowly lifted up the magazine so no one could see what I was reading. I turned to the index, and I flipped eagerly to the cover story.

And I began reading:

* * * * *

Cosmopolitan June 2013


What do you fancy doing in your next holiday?
Basking on a beach? Scuba diving? Trekking? Partying the night away?
Or how about dressing up as a schoolgirl and having your bare bottom smacked?
Susan James investigates the extraordinary new adult role play holiday that not only breaks the rules, but is sent to see the headmistress afterwards.

– – –

Suddenly, spanking is chic.
Celebrity submissives are tumbling out of the closet, OTK has entered the popular lexicon, and slipper sales are at a 20 year high. And all it took was a movie, naturally.

The movie in question is, of course, ‘Playing Games’, the smash-hit British erotic romantic comedy starring Jude Law and Carey Mulligan. They play an uptight couple whose passionless relationship is floundering, only to be rescued by their previously unbeknownst shared interest in kinky games.

After taking £60 million at the UK box office, it was released in the US to a storm of controversy. The nation’s self-appointed moral watchdogs condemned it as “depraved filth” and “perverted”, and churches nationwide urged their congregations to boycott it. The ensuing media circus and word-of-mouth recommendations combined to propel the film to the number one spot, and change the meaning of term ‘flushed cheeks’ forever.

The movie followed in the footsteps of last year’s ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, the erotic New York Times bestseller, which unexpectedly brought kinky whippings and bondage to supermarket bookshelves for the first time. Although the Fifty Shades movie, due out later this year, will be much less racy, having been reimagined as a PG-13 romantic comedy.

“Full frontal nudity. Masturbation. Anal sex… What was once taboo is now familiar, as new generations make their own minds up and fail to see what all the fuss is about” says sociologist Dr Laura Rose. “Spanking and bondage used to be seen as weird activities that occurred in creepy dungeons. Now Shibari [an artistic way of tying up your lover] lessons are advertised on community notice boards and you can buy canes and paddles on the high street.”

– – –

In 2007, a management consultant called Sara Bergson resigned from a well-paid job to start her own business. By the end of that year, Playscape Ltd had 10 employees and was already breaking even. Its business was supplying fantasy books and props to the UK’s burgeoning ‘adult toy’ market.

By 2008, Playscape was already the UK’s biggest supplier and had begun to diversify. Aware of the ignorance and embarrassment surrounding its products – and the marketing power of tupperware party – the company began running informal chats on how to build a better bedroom fantasy life. It wasn’t long before these chats became vocational, whisking students away to act out and explore their own fantasies in a safe, mediated environment.

Almost by accident, Playscape had discovered a hidden market for adult entertainment: the Role Play Weekend. Replacing the bland seminar rooms with theatrical quality costumes, sets and props, and steered by staff with a talent for improvisation, the scenarios became ever more convincing and immersive.

By the summer of 2009, there was sufficient demand for Playscape to run a fantasy event every weekend. A typical event would see between 6 and 10 professional women become naughty schoolgirls for a weekend, with a strict professional dominatrix in charge. They would be whisked away to an isolated country mansion, which had been rented by the organisers and fitted out to resemble an 1930s era boarding school, complete with classrooms, dormitories and a forbidding private study for the headmistress.

Each weekend would be a unique mixture of story and improvisation, the narrative being tailored by what each participant had revealed about their secret selves. As part of their application, each lady had completed a questionnaire, and then met a member of the organising team, who’d assess their personality to ensure that not only were all participants well-adjusted individuals, but they were all willing to play along too.

On Friday evening the participants would assemble at a designated hotel, providing a chance to meet each other and unwind from the working week. And in each hotel room, folded neatly on their bed, they’d find their school uniform.

Accompanying their uniform, was a sealed envelope with their instructions. Each lady was given a schoolgirl name, so they could step into character and leave their self-consciousness behind. Each character came with a comprehensive backstory, a mini-biography covering everything from where they lived, to how strict their parents were, to what hobbies they liked. Each biography would also throw in some secrets, to add some intrigue.

The biography also revealed her age. During the interview, each participant was asked what age they’d like to play. The desired ages varied widely, from young children to mature teenagers. The organisers would then group applicants together according to their desired age. Punishments would, of course, subsequently be meted out to anyone deemed to be “not acting their age”.

Each participant was also asked to choose – and keep secret – one of the archetypal roles, which would determine how they’d play the weekend.
For instance, she might choose to be a swot, to behave studiously and try to keep out of trouble.
Or she might be a minx, a rebellious troublemaker with taste for pranks.
Or a siren, a sexually precocious young lady, most likely to be wearing skimpy underwear in blatant contravention of the school regulations.
Or a provocateur, who’ll do anything she can to get her fellow pupils into trouble, so she can watch their bare bottoms redden.
Or a princess, who wants to be top girl, the centre of attention.
Or a bully, who wants to be mean, and have others fear her.
Or a wallflower, meekly hoping no-one notices her, especially the headmistress.
Or a thief, who’s on a mission to steal possessions from her fellow pupils without being rumbled.
Or one of a dozen others…

And so, on Saturday morning, the ladies would assemble for breakfast in character in their new school uniforms. An authentically ancient school bus would then take them from the hotel to their school; several miles, and seventy years away.

Each weekend is always different. With each lady choosing a different role, a unique story always unfolds, with the headmistress there to steer the tale. Being a school, of course, there are classes to take, with inattentiveness and ignorance often earning offenders a trip to the front of the class to have their skirts raised.

Over the course of the day there is usually some intrigue, such as a whodunnit that develops when something is stolen, or a conspiracy to cheat in the upcoming class test. Or sometimes elaborate pranks are played, and their perpetrators must be found and punished.

Saturday night is spent in the dorms, offering further scope for mischief and highjinks. It is rare indeed that any participant does not go to bed rubbing a sore bottom.

Sunday brings the emerging intrigues to a climax, and is typically accompanied by several pairs of knickers being lowered and swishes of the cane. By the end of Sunday evening, many new friendships have been formed, and the participants return home with red bottoms, big smiles, their new uniform, and bagfuls of Playscape branded merchandise for their partners to try.

And when the movie came, demand just soared.

– – –

The headquarters of Playscape is a modern office building in London’s West End. Colourful abstract prints rather than canes adorn the walls, and Sara notices my surprise.

“We used to have visitors expecting to find us above a sex shop in Soho” she jokes, “But we’ve always been a serious business.”

And indeed Sara’s office could be that of any managing director in the country. Beyond a glass partition, her staff beaver away at their workstations, processing customer applications for upcoming events, and orchestrating the logististics.

I begin by asking her, what is the attraction of role-playing?

She waves her hands, as if casting a spell.
“Remember when you were little, you used to be so playful. Once we could spend days just exploring, playing games and having fun. Then life got all serious!”

“We grow up and invent layers. We all have a mask that we wear in public, but it’s boring. It’s what we keep underneath that really brings us pleasure.”

I hope I don’t blush as I nod at her last sentence.

“At school our drama teacher got us to analyse Macbeth. He had this public persona: a brave soldier, a loyal servant of the King. Under that mask, he saw himself as a passionate husband, an earthy comrade-in-arms and the Lord of his castle. But underneath this facade was ambition, ruthlessness and moral weakness. Our teacher taught us that public personas are dull portraits, and that it’s the deeper levels that make for compelling drama.”

So she brings out the inner actress in everyone? I ask.

“Acting sounds so inauthentic. What we do is get our ladies to express what’s deep within. In the modern world, everyone has a public persona. It defines our public duties, status and responsibilities: how we dress, work and present ourselves. We’re all familiar what happens when our public persona bubbles rub together at parties – dreary smalltalk!”

“Beneath our public mask is how we like to think of ourselves. It defines our normal day-to-day behaviour and commitments. We let our closest friends see us this way. When we communicate at this level, the result is conversation.”

Sara is quite animated now, I’m being to see the enthusiastic expressiveness of a drama teacher beneath her sensible business suit. She continues:

“And at at the kernel of our being is our private persona, this is what brings us satisfaction. This is our engine of playfulness, our treasure chest of memories, emotions and dreams. It makes people interesting and fun to be around. Without it, we’d be obligation machines, slaves to the roles society has dictated. It’s the core of our being, what makes art a joy, and what makes dreams a thrill. It’s where our fantasies are born.”

“That’s why we get our ladies to play schoolgirls. We take them back to a time before they invented their modern identity, give them a new name, tell them to forget the outside world and give them permission to run wild!”

At this she keeps eye contact; I wonder if that’s just her inner confidence, or whether she’s trying to peer behind my own scrupulously constructed mask. What secrets she’d see. I hide my thoughts as best I can by smiling in agreement, and then ask her about the motivation for founding Playscape.

“A few years after I married, I realised I’d lost touch with that inner spontaneousness. My husband and I were going through the same old sexual ritual, and doing it less and less. And then I realised we were wearing masks, playing roles: the professional couple. We no longer saw that inner fire deep within each other, the connection that had made our early days so passionate.”

“Initially I was just looking for ways to spice up our love life. But along the way I stumbled something much more interesting: the invigorating, restorative, energising power of our inner fantasies. Needless to say, after discovering that, I couldn’t go back to writing reports on corporate strategy. And so I founded this company, with the goal of bringing our fantasies out of the closet and back into the bedroom!”

She eyes me curiously. “Have you been on one of our weekends?”

Now I really do blush like a schoolgirl caught passing a note in class.

“Oh, you must!“ she insists, “In the name of research, of course”, she adds conspiratorially…

* * * * *

Far away, I’m dimly aware of my name being shouted.
And again.
I’m shaken out of my reverie and back to reality. The receptionist is calling my name. In a room of four people, everyone has turned to stare at me – the one engrossed in her magazine, as if in a trance. I feel myself blushing as I snap the magazine closed and half-bury it amongst the pile of other magazines on the table. Oh, so that’s why I found that Cosmo so haphazardly buried, I realise as I hurry out of the room towards my appointment. Someone else must have got carried away by it too.

On the way home, I call at several newsagents. Agonisingly, they’re all sold out.
Finally, mercifully, I find a copy of the Cosmo to buy for myself.
I take it home and consume it voraciously.

I’ve read the article 5 times now. It’s filled my mind, I can see the accompanying photos when I close my eyes. I can vividly imagine the adventures of a weekend away. It’s a mental itch, an obsession.

I visited the Playscape site immediately. It’s a classy, minimalist affair of whites and greys, as if daring my imagination to colour it in. The online brochure was seductive, showing a fabulous country house with immaculately tended grounds. The sepia-toned classrooms were ominously atmospheric, and dorms made me nostalgic for the sisterhood of my teenage years, when friends were closer, and we shared each others’ lives.

I applied to join, without hesitation.

Now I’m staring at my laptop screen, and my mouth has gone dry. I sip my wine. A question floats in front of me, matter-of-factly. I’m filling in the application form for a role-playing weekend, and I’m being asked about my deepest secrets.

Have you ever been spanked?

My laptop is my confessor. What I’m about to tell it, no-one in the world knows. Not a soul. My screen glows dispassionately, waiting for my answer. It’s not pushy. I know it won’t judge me. It just waits. Have you ever been spanked?

I take a deep breath, and a gulp of wine.
I tick the box labelled “Yes, I’ve been spanked before”

A new question appears: Do you prefer to be spanked by men, women, or either?

I close my eyes and I’m 9 again. I’m standing in my pyjamas. About to follow my cousin Amy over my auntie’s knee. I’m staring in front of me, at Amy’s yellow pyjama bottoms, now gathered around her ankles. I can hardly bear to look at Amy’s bottom, which is being painted pink with each slap of auntie’s slipper.

Amy is trying not to cry, perhaps her own small act of resistance, or perhaps she doesn’t want to cry in front of me. A bright pink circle now adorns each of Amy’s small buttocks, making them resemble the rosy cheeks of her wooden dolls. The whacking stops. Her mother, my aunt, lifts her up onto her lap and cradles her. She scolds Amy for her day of mischief, for her reckless misbehaviour. Then she tells her that she loves her.

I click the box labelled “I prefer to be spanked by women”.

Another question appears in its place: Do you enjoy being spanked?
Now my options are:
“Yes, I love being spanked, the harder the better”
“Yes, I enjoy being spanked”
“No, I don’t enjoy being spanked, but I’m turned on by it”
“No, I hate being spanked, but I’m fascinated by it”

I close my eyes and I’m 9 again. Amy has been sent to face the wall, I stare at the round pink circles on her bottom. In a moment, I’ll be beckoned forward. I will feel auntie’s fingers on my waist, and my pyjamas will be tugged down. A strong hand on my back will push me over her lap. And I’ll receive my first ever spanking.
It doesn’t hurt as much as I feared.
And later that night, in bed, as my hands rub and knead and soothe my throbbing bottom, I’ll make another discovery that will change my life.

I tick the box labelled “Yes, I enjoy being spanked”

* * * * *


I signed up for the role-playing weekend.
I was given the name Verity Crawford.
I felt exhilaratingly naughty in my school uniform.
I choose to be a provocateur.
I got us all into trouble, just like I’d led Amy astray, all those years ago.
I thoroughly deserved all my punishments.
I can’t wait to go again.



@SpankingTheatre 2012