Vault Festival Theatre Review: Trade (Omnibus Theatre, London) ★★★★

Complex, challenging and more than a little surprising, Trade plunges the audience into the murky and perilous world of European sex-trafficking. Unflinching, unapologetic and at times deeply uncomfortable, Trade is a well performed and thoughtfully directed piece that never shies away from the difficult questions.

I could tell you I had no choice. I could tell you I’m innocent. But I know that wouldn’t be completely true”

Jana is leaving war-torn Serbia with her boyfriend, dreaming of a better life in the UK. But when she wakes up in a basement in Bosnia, she quickly realises that she will have to use all her strength, intelligence and guile to survive her shocking new circumstances.

Eleanor Roberts and Tanya Cubric in Trade. Photo by Olivia Spencer.

Sincere and sympathetic, Tanya Cubric gives a dynamic central performance as Jana. You feel for her, you empathise with her situation, and you can entirely understand her journey. Playwright Ella Dorman-Gajic has created a layered character faced with an unbearable decision. The audience has to ask themselves, would they make a better moral choice if they were in her heels?

With the difficult job of playing a number of unlikeable men, Ojan Genc is alternately tender and terrifying; emblematic of the mix of power, control, and coercion used to lure young girls into modern slavery. Eleanor Roberts plays her multiple roles with skill, representing the family of those who have been ensnared as well as the numerous other women trapped in the traffickers’ web.

Ojan Genc, Eleanor Roberts, and Tanya Cubric in Trade. Photo by Olivia Spencer.

There are so many small choices in this production that director Maddy Corner and the talented creative team have got just right. The use of projected images and bilingual surtitles on the cardboard box backdrop anchor the piece firmly in the characters’ world. The decision to speak in English accents while in dialogue with other Eastern European characters, yet in broken, accented English when speaking to UK characters is an incredibly effective device. It allows the audience to hear Jana speaking eloquently and passionately about her experiences, whilst simultaneously underscoring many of the assumptions made about those who speak English as a second language. Equally, it shows Jana’s duality – both the business woman and the cleaner, the perpetrator and the victim.

The use of an intimacy coordinator (Tigger Blaize) has also paid dividends: there are some toe-curling moments that hint so strongly at the true horror of the women’s reality, and the trust required to pull it off authentically is clearly on display. Natasha Gatward’s minimalistic, tactile set and costume designs add so much to the setting and overall feel of the production, with the inclusion of multiple sets of women’s underwear overhead particularly sobering. Kristina Kaplin’s sound design meshes perfectly with Tim Kelly’s lighting and video design, together creating an intimate and sometimes oppressive atmosphere that underscores the tension and sense of threat that is ever-present.

Tanya Cubric in Trade. Photo by Olivia Spencer.

Trade is a dark, haunting play in many ways, yet there is also light and humour sprinkled through it. The story is told through direct address, when it feels Jana is giving her testimony, as well as conventional dialogue, which propels the narrative. When Jana is alone, the other actors assume a neutral state, moving the set and conjuring props in an almost otherworldly manner. The piece is designed to provoke, to challenge the audience, while simultaneously humanising a group of people who are all around us, but so often unseen.

By Deborah Klayman

Trade plays at Omnibus Theatre until 19th February 2022 as part of the Vault Festival Transfer season.

10% of all ticket sales will go to Unseen, a leading UK charity fighting modern slavery.

Leave a Reply

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: