Silent Trade – Lyric Theatre – Review

Silent Trade – Lyric Theatre – Review
by Cathy Brown

Kabosh Theatre Company present Silent Trade by Rosemary Jenkinson at Lyric Theatre, Belfast
Wed 22—Sun 26 Feb 2023

“Everything is survivable…”

Over the course of more than 20 plays, Rosemary Jenkinson has established herself as a playwright who is unafraid to tackle weighty political and social issues specific to Northern Ireland. Similarly, Kabosh Theatre Company have always grounded their work in place, society and politics, producing provocative and timely theatre that opens up often-difficult conversations. They are a perfect fit then, for this new play Silent Trade that explores the traumatic world of modern slavery and contemporary human trafficking through the story of one Nigerian woman named Precious.

Precious is a twenty-six-year-old Nigerian woman who has been trafficked to Northern Ireland, under the promise of a non-existent visa, in order to pay off her brother’s medical bills back home. She has been sold to a wealthy couple for whom she cooks, cleans and provides childcare. The only place she is allowed to go is to the school gates, but when she breaks that rule, she is sold on to Rab, the owner of brothels across the city. Now held in another house, from which she is again forbidden to leave, she is befriended by Suzanne, an ex-junkie who is paying off her drug debts. When Precious meets a shy and awkward client, John – who would rather ask questions than have sex – her life is yet again thrown into turmoil and she soon realises that even those who appear to be on her side, are using her for their own ends.

Paula McFetridge directs the action with a sure hand, deftly drawing out the play’s themes about the way women are often only valued for work, sex or advancement. Her astute direction keeps the play from straying into melodrama or preaching.

James Doran brings the requisite menace to his role as brothel owner Rab and provides a surprising amount of humour. Louise Parker is a strong, spiky presence as middle-class executive Erin, but her skill comes to the fore when she plays prostitute Suzanne, where she brings a touching vulnerability and surprising depth of character. Seamus O’Hara (fresh off his turn in the BAFTA-winning and Oscar-nominated short film An Irish Goodbye) is excellent in a role that, in lesser hands, could have been one-note. He brings the necessary nuance as John, but when his sharp edges appear, it becomes clear that he also has his own agenda. Lizzy Akinbami, in her theatre debut, appears hesitant at first, but settles into her role and is a pleasing presence, particularly in the play’s lighter moments.

Tracey Lindsay’s set is simple yet effective. Large panels, evoking the interior of the lorry that brought Precious to Northern Ireland, are seamlessly moved around the stage to create an up-market kitchen or an interview room, but always with the air of a prison regardless of the setting.

Jenkinson has always had a great ear for dialogue and wordplay and the darkness of Silent Trade is enlivened by some great one-liners and sharp injections of humour. The ending may initially seem unresolved, but in situations like this, a pat satisfactory conclusion would do the story of Precious a disservice. Instead, Jenkinson seems to be saying that in the worst of circumstances and against all odds, all we can hope for is a moment of genuine human connection with someone who understands exactly who we are.

Silent Trade raises interesting questions about identity and society in contemporary Northern Ireland and shines a much-needed light on human trafficking, the fastest growing crime in the world. Kabosh have produced a thought-provoking and stimulating piece of theatre that runs at the Lyric until Sunday 26th February before heading out on tour across Northern Ireland.

Categories: Header, Theatre, Theatre Review

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