Waterloo East Theatre 27 July and Venue 405, Edinburgh 7 – 18 August. Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Human trafficking is big business, with estimates of 20,000 people a year being trafficked in the UK. Rah Rah Theatre Company’s My Mind Is Free aims to highlight the plight of victims through stories that will make you realise that they could be working in plain sight, in your neighbourhood.
Four people are travelling, hidden, in the back of a van. They don’t know each other, and they don’t know where they are going, or what will happen when they get there. One by one, they tell their story to the audience, each of them having travelled very different paths to get in the van. Beatritz (Emma Miller), a Brazilian mother from the favelas, who signed up with an agency to work as a cleaner in London in order to raise enough money to allow her son a future other than joining a gang; Giang (Mark Ota), a Vietnamese boy whose family’s lives are threatened if he does not work for a gang growing cannabis in the UK; Violeta (Amy Balmforth), a Romanian teenager whose devotion to her seedy boyfriend has led to her being sold to any man who wants her; and Colin (David Sayers), a homeless army veteran suffering from PTSD.
The characters’ stories unfold gently at first, with increasing physical theatre and rising tempo as their jeopardy grows. This is especially effective in Giang’s story, as he runs back to the gang, away from a safe and happy foster home, in fear of the repercussions for his family in Vietnam. Colin’s story is the most harrowing, recreating the IED explosion in Afghanistan where he is trapped watching his friends die around him. His PTSD is portrayed by the rest of the cast flopping limply to the floor around him as he speaks to them – the only thing that stops him thinking about, and seeing, the dead is drink.
Some of the characters’ choices seem naïve on the surface, but their motivations are all believable, and their actions ARE credible if you imagine yourself in their predicament. Violeta’s continuing devotion to her groomer boyfriend, despite all he’d put her through, caused a lot of discussion after the show, but when only one person in your life has shown you what you think is love, a whole lot of therapy is needed to convince you that it’s a toxic relationship.
Jude Spooner’s astute direction keeps the play from straying into melodrama and preaching. This is a worthy production, about a dreadful issue that needs to be tackled, but it is still highly entertaining – admittedly not a laugh a minute, but a thought-provoking, sobering and stimulating evening’s entertainment.