Friday, September 09, 2011
Slave - A Question of Freedom
I was at Riverside Studios last night for the opening of Slave - A Question of Freedom: the play that won the first Pete Postlethwaite Award in Manchester earlier this year. It was an extraordinary night - and not just because of what was happening on stage....
The play re-tells the life story of Mende Nazar, who was born in Nuba, and was taken into slavery at the age of 12, during the Sudanese Civil War. This was 1994. She was trafficked to the UK, and finally escaped slavery in 2000. It took several more years before she was granted refugee status: apparently "slavery is not persecution" in the eyes of the Home Office.
The play is engaging enough, especially after Mende's arrival in London, although the captors are constantly portrayed as melodramatic villains (there's even some wild laughter about rape), and Mende's childhood is portrayed as a rural idyll, which seems odd given that she is now trying to raise funds for a school and supplies of clean water. The morality seemed too simple: we all know that slavery is appalling, so how on earth can it still be happening, right here, right now? The central question was left unanswered.
But none of this mattered, given that Mende herself was in the audience, and sitting quite near to me. I could hear her crying at the accounts of rape and brutality. At the end, she was brought onto the stage, to a standing ovation, and made an emotional speech of thanks to the company. And then she said: "If I can make a difference, so can all of you". Which is true. She had absolutely nothing, and now is a celebrated campaigner. So people who have something have the responsibility that goes with it.
Oh yes - the director's father collapsed just before the interval and had to be taken to hospital. Apparently he was OK - but it was another moment of emotion and spectacle...