Pleasance Theatre, London – until 25th March 2023
Reviewed by Bobbi Fenton
‘Trade’ is an absolutely phenomenal work of art, portraying the horrors of human trafficking and the impact that this has on its victims. The story follows Jana (Katarina Novkovic) as she falls in love with a man called Stefan (Ojan Genc) who convinces her to move to England with him. In her naivety, after only knowing him for three weeks, she agrees. After meeting up with Stefans cousin in a bar and drinking some red wine, Jana wakes up in a room with the door locked, covered in blood. Over the course of the next three years, Jana is trained by Nikola (Ojan Genc) to work as a sex worker and cleaner. Jana works her way up the ladder, eventually reaching a position where she has a phone, and is responsible for answering the phone to customers and taking bookings. Towards the end of the play, she is forced to help smuggle more girls from the boats into a van, and we see her guilt as she is being forced to do to other girls what was done to her when she was first brought into the organisation.
The play uses multi-role for the male roles of Stefan, Nikola, and two unnamed men (Ojan Genc), as well as for the female roles of Katerina (Jana’s sister), and two other girls that are in the organisation, called Elena and Iona (Eleanor Roberts). Because of the multi-role, we see the other actors changing costumes regularly throughout, which contrasts Jana wearing the same outfit for the whole play, which over time becomes stained with various substances at key moments during her ordeal. This is my favourite part of the play, as the blood, mud, and vomit that are on her at the end are a brilliant way of showing how victims of human trafficking are ‘stained’ by their horrendous experiences. It is also very effective in showing a contrast between the beginning of the play, where we see Jana wearing a pristine white jumpsuit, and the ending where she is wearing the same jumpsuit, but now it is stained. This combined with the repeating of the first scene is brilliant in showing that we the audience didn’t know the full story at the beginning, but now we do. We see the guilt that Jana feels over participating in trafficking girls, despite not having any choice in the matter, even commenting on how pretending to be one of these girls when the police show up wouldn’t be the ‘complete story’. The actors also use accents to portray speaking in different languages, using their usual voices when the characters are speaking Bosnian, and using a Bosnian accent and speaking in broken English when their characters are speaking English.
This play is an ingenious piece of writing by the brilliant Ella Dorman-Gajic, and expertly performed by Katarina Novkovic, Eleanor Roberts, and Ojan Genc. There is not a single actor I could think of that could have portrayed these characters better. This is an experience that definitely shouldn’t be missed.