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A CurtainUp London Review
On the bus, just arrived from the airport is a Nigerian woman "auntie" and Mary her 14 year old "niece", a new arrival in the UK who's full of charm and childish enthusiasm for the place where she hopes to be schooled and to qualify as a lawyer. Mary connects with us, friendly and questioning and unaffected, innocently asking us about and commenting on our life here. When we get to the house, in a terraced street with most of the properties boarded up we are led into a room while Martha (Adura Onashile) shows Mary (Mercy Ojelade) her room. Then everything gets darker as the Albanian pimp Djall (John Kazek) lurks in the doorway watching Mary dancing to a Beyoncé video on the TV.
Mary goes into another room and we are left with the sounds of shouting and a video of the eyes of a frightened child surrounded by three men who morph into three wolves and attack and rape her. She becomes a rag doll. This is graphic, painful to watch and of course makes us uncomfortable as voyeurs, powerless to change the events.
We go into the bedroom where Mary, her white dress bloodied, is washed by Martha as Martha explains what Mary will have to do working in the brothel. Martha cuts her arm and Mary’s, using a blood pact to guarantee Mary’s silence and tells her many lies about the outside world and the police, using references to God and evil spirits and threatening Mary’s family back in Nigeria to frighten and manipulate her.
Projected on to the back wall are feedback reports gathered from the internet about the service encountered by men at various brothels accompanied by a voiceover delivering the same material. These are real life entries from PunterNet. They are consumer led accounts of what they consider are good or bad value for money and have details like "Easy Parking". There are arguments as Mary is blamed for a punter’s refusing to pay.
The play sees some more contact with clients and a call from a policeman. All the male parts are ably played by John Kazek, switching from Albanian to Scots to English. We realise that Martha who procured Mary from her family is as much a victim as Mary.
The performances are excellent. Mercy Ojelade is exceptional showing us a delightful school girl without any trace of mawkishness in trauma. It must be gruelling for her giving this complex and hard hitting performance. Adura Onashile cruelly treats the girl but also has to show what a hold the pimp has over her. John Kazek handles several roles but makes each distinctive.
The video projection is exceptional. The image of a foetus is projected onto the girl’s bare stomach as Mary talk about what life was like at home with her own father. We see a projection of Mary’s view of the succession of male clients in action when she is working.
This is political theatre but it is also technically innovative in dramatising what cannot be shown onstage. It is there to raise awareness. The Metropolitan Police does not have a specialist child trafficking team and the police and immigration services are patchy. Girls who escape have trouble proving their identity as their papers have been destroyed and these brothels can move to another empty property, quickly and without trace, so it is difficult to catch the culprits. There are plans to take this production worldwide because child trafficking is a worldwide problem.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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