Trade, written by London-based playwright Ella Dorman-Gajic, examined the difficult topic of sex-trafficking and is packed with power and emotion in its short run at the Pleasance Theatre.
Starring Katarina Novkovic, Ojan Genc and Eleanor Roberts, the small cast delivered exceptional performances throughout.
The production has been on tour across the UK with shows in Birmingham, Exeter and Norwich after concluding performances at Islington’s Pleasance Theatre at the end of March.
Dorman-Gajic’s story follows the journey of a young woman called Jana, played by Novkovic, who is thrown into a dark underworld of prostitution and slavery after being lured by the temptation of a better life in the UK by boyfriend Stefan, played by Genc.
“What I find so interesting is that two truths can exist at once.”
The issues examined in the play are stark in their relevance to today’s events, despite being set during the 1990’s crisis in Bosnia.
Dorman-Gajic said: “Sex-trafficking has become much more prevalent in the news, especially with stories of people like Andrew Tate allegedly trafficking girls from Romania.”
As the story progresses, Jana transforms from a victim to a somewhat complicit actor in a sex-trafficking ring and it seems the play questions the nature of victimhood.
Dorman-Gajic said: “What I find so interesting is that two truths can exist at once.
“It exists not only with trafficking but in other stories of women being labelled as criminals, where there’s a blurred line between whether the woman is a criminal and a victim.”
She also highlighted the case of Shamima Begum, who as a 15 year old girl, travelled from the UK to Syria to join ISIS.
There are undoubtedly some tough scenes, notably a gripping moment early on when Jana wakes up to find herself locked in a filthy basement after being drugged by Stefan.
A palpable sense of dread entered the theatre as we realised the severity of the character’s predicament and it is in scenes like this where the quality of the acting shone through.
“In times of crisis, we do what we do out of love.”
In her first professional role since graduating from the Royal Academy of Drama and Arts (RADA), the excellent Novkovic creates a vivid portrayal of Jana’s descent and inner conflict as the character becomes increasingly complicit in the running of the gang.
Novkovic said: “It was intense but we had a lot of fun, a lot of creative juices all out in the open, it was great – really good!”
Jana’s confilct is perfectly displayed during a scene she receives a heart-breaking phone call from her estranged sister whilst under watch of one of the sex-trafficking ring.
Novkovic said: “That scene I found the hardest to learn, but I think it’s because you get so invested in the emotion.
“To hear her voice is the most important thing, it reminds you that in times of crisis we do what we do out of love and I think people forget that.”
She was also quick to heap praise on fellow cast members Genc and Roberts, who play multiple characters, and it’s evident that the bond between them is central to their effectiveness on stage.
Genc said: “For me, it was just mainly about ensemble and teamwork, given it’s such a difficult subject.
“Everyone feeling safe was the number one thing.”
The play is partnered with anti-slavery charity Unseen who estimate that 50 million people are victims of modern slavery.
Photo credits: Ali Painter