From time to time my mind was free during My Mind is Free, and not always for the best of reasons, even if the feeling that the show was dragging on a bit was, for once, entirely in keeping with the narrative. The four main characters in the play are on a long journey by road, in cramped conditions, not knowing where they are currently or where precisely they are headed. Even in these days of ubiquitous mobile telephony, the mobsters and ringleaders of human trafficking are able to psychologically – and if necessary, physically – force people in desperate situations to carry out the most menial, or otherwise sordid, of tasks. Their victims receive very little, if any, remuneration for what they do.
These characters were sold the dream, and when they took the plunge, they found that not everything was as wonderful as it was portrayed. The play could benefit from some lengthening – in the rush to get to the heart of each story, the background to how the characters ended up as victims of human trafficking comes across as glossed over. The characters are therefore perceived as gullible and (I think unfairly) unintelligent. One lady, Beatritz (Emma Miller), seems to think that just because a particular ‘agency’ has a website this adds to their credibility. Make of that what you will. Violeta (Amy Balmforth) persists in wanting to be with someone who is both physically and verbally abusive towards her, and I could not get my head around why on earth she would want to persist in pursuing
a relationship that is clearly unhealthy.
The show is otherwise rather harrowing. It has been 210 years since the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act 1807, but the play demonstrates that slavery, or human trafficking (to give it its twenty-first-century moniker) is very much thriving in today’s world. As far as this production goes, I’m not sure whether the overseas accents, wonky as a couple of them were, were wholly necessary. It is not beyond the wisdom of an audience to assume that certain characters are speaking in English in order for the audience to understand what they are saying, but are ‘actually’ speaking to each other in their native tongue, whatever that may be.
There are broken bones and broken feelings in almost equal measure. Giang (Mark Ota), from Vietnam, of school age, seeks employment to pay off substantial debts incurred by his family. The role of Colin (David Sayers), whose story only properly comes to light fairly late in the play, demonstrates that one can be White British and still find themselves a victim of trafficking in the UK.
Certain movements proved distracting, especially one where characters suddenly slumped on to the floor in quick succession. The falls were not referred to in any subsequent dialogue, which leads me to conclude it could be taken out of the show without hindering it. Now, this isn’t the first play I’ve come across that tackles such issues as this – some are more graphic than this one, whereas My Mind is Free concentrates more on the devastating emotional consequences of falling victim to human trafficking. Arguably, there’s some stereotyping going on, and one character (I won’t say which one) crosses a line into melodrama.
The play does succeed, however, in shedding light on an important topic, and does so without coming across as lecturing or preaching. A worthy production that still requires some tweaking to truly shine.
Review by Chris Omaweng
MY MIND IS FREE is a powerful interpretation of the degradations of human trafficking. It tells the interlinked stories of four people trafficked to and within the UK and their horrifying tales of abuse, exploitation and enslavement. The production uses a mixture of physical theatre and multi–role playing to portray the epic journey and terrible risks that desperate people will go to in the pursuit of what they believe to be a better life, only to find that they are then exploited, ending up in a far worse position than when they started.
Violeta – Amy Balmforth
Colin – David Sayers
Giang – Mark Ota
Beatritz – Emma Miller
Director – Jude Spooner
Rah Rah Community Theatre Company: for more information go to www.mymindisfree.com
Show dates and times
(Preview) 27 July 2017
7.30pm (65 mins) Waterloo East Theatre, Brad Street, SE1 8TN
7 – 18 August 2017
Venue 405, 1 East Adam St, EH8 9TF (Opposite The Pleasance Courtyard)