KABOSH are masters of giving voice to those who have been voiceless in theatre and sometimes the best way to understand the complexity of an issue is to simply watch a good production about it. Writer Rosemary Jenkins has been persistently reminding Paula McFetridge of Kabosh that the issue of human trafficking and slavery is one worthy of a spotlight and eventually commissioned her to write Silent Trade.
The result is an emotive production that entertains and informs, makes you cringe, and then, shockingly, you realise that a lot of this happens in plain sight.
New laws on modern slavery and human trafficking in Northern Ireland came into effect in 2015. But between 2012 and 2020 the number of potential victims of modern slavery rose by 750 per cent in Northern Ireland. The play exposes that human misery lurking in the leafy suburbs and student areas of Belfast through the plight of a young female immigrant forced first into domestic servitude and then prostitution to pay off debts owed to her traffickers.
Since time began some humans have had the desire to simply exploit other humans and the fact that this is on the increase in the North of Ireland is horrific. The scale of the issue and the complexity of the intercontinential trade in trafficking people is one that I'd rather not have exist in our society, but the play does a good job of giving many different sides of the story. The play is not one person's story, rather it was developed out of many real-life testimonies, including members of the Nigerian community who had knowledge of human trafficking.
The set, designed by Tracey Lindsay, reminds us of the metal shipping containers that some people are trafficked in; it becomes a middle-class kitchen and then a brothel, in which Precious – played by Nigerian-born Lizzy Akinbami – is never allowed to open the doors.
Kabosh Artistic Director Paula said reports of recent police operations against people traffickers had increased public awareness of what previously had been an invisible crime. She explained: “Rosemary and I have been talking about tackling this important subject for three and a half years and now the time is right to expose what is happening behind the curtains of homes across the north.”
Modern slavery and human trafficking really hit the headlines late last year when the PSNI raided 27 brothels across Northern Ireland and charged two people with brothel-keeping and human trafficking. But despite the horrific subject, there is lots of humour in the characters as well as a focus on the amazing ability of the human spirit to rise above adversity and plan escape.
Damian Smyth, Head of Literature and Drama at the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, said: “The Arts Council of Northern Ireland is pleased to support this new production from Kabosh Theatre Company and writer Rosemary Jenkinson which demonstrates the power of using the arts as a tool to create awareness and discussion around challenging subjects in society. Well done to all involved.”
Lizzy Akinbami plays Precious in her first stage role. She said: “There is such depth in Precious’s story. She is a very strong character right from the start of the play.”
Her determination not to stay locked up is movingly compared to local woman Suzanne, played by Louise Parker, a drug addict forced into prostitution to pay off debts and who has resigned herself to her grim position.
The play is so worth seeing and although the subject is difficult you leave better informed, entertained and able to have a more informed discussion with the people around you and you feel more empathy for those who are exploited.